Saturday, November 8, 2003

Defense bill benefits Wright-Pat base

By Malia Rulon
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Wright-Patterson Air Force Base will receive $21.1 million for two construction projects and a nonprofit museum in Toledo will get a decommissioned tug boat, under a defense spending bill that cleared the House on Friday.

The $400.5 billion bill, which authorizes all defense spending for the next year, also gives soldiers pay raises. The bill is expected to pass the Senate next week and be signed into law.

The Wright-Patterson funding includes $10.6 million to build a fire station and $10.5 million to construct a three-story, 144-bed dormitory for enlisted soldiers. The capital improvements at the Dayton-area base are good news as Wright-Pat braces for a round of base closures next year, base advocates said.

"It helps strengthen the mission areas at Wright-Patterson and Springfield and positions southwest Ohio in a positive light," said J.P. Nauseef, vice president of the Dayton Development Coalition.

Another provision in the bill would exempt Wright-Patterson, which employs more than 22,000 military and civilian workers, from workforce reforms that could have restricted the flexibility of certain Defense Department research labs at the base from hiring the people they need.

"The Air Force labs have developed their own pilot programs over the past several years ... and need to be sure the reforms would not restrain the successes they've achieved," said Rep. Mike Turner of Dayton, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee.

In Toledo, a nonprofit group won the first big step in its mission to establish the Last Patrol Museum and memorial. Under the defense bill, the group will be allowed to take possession of the USS Hoist, a decommissioned tug boat that specialized in several high-profile recovery efforts.

Crew members of the USS Hoist recovered parts of the USS Thresher, a nuclear submarine that broke apart in the northwest Atlantic Ocean in 1963, killing 129 crew and civilian technicians,

In 1966, the USS Hoist recovered a hydrogen bomb that fell into the ocean after the B-52 bomber that was carrying it crashed into another airplane.

"As far as salvage tugs go, it has a storied history," said Steve Fought, a spokesman for Toledo Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

Rep. Dave Hobson, a Springfield Republican, voted for the spending bill but criticized it for not including a provision that would have required the federal government to buy more American products for defense needs.

"Healthy competition in the global marketplace is to be encouraged, but a line is crossed when we are talking about harming the U.S. industrial base that provides our military hardware," said Hobson.

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