It's a quarter of a million dollars, and it's a win/win for the base and the community. Last week Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that Suffolk County successfully secured a grant to enhance communication systems at the 106th Rescue Wing Air National Guard base located at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.
The money -- $126,000 from the New York State Empire State Development Corporation (NYSED) to be matched by Suffolk County with $116,000 and Southampton Town, which provided another $10,000 for a total $252,000 – will be used to purchase two wide band radio base stations with accessories, batteries, specialized antenna, chargers, multiband LMR and GPS microphones, mobile chargers, and vehicle antennae. The equipment will be controlled, operated and maintained by the ANG.
According to a release from Bellone's office, the new gear will bolster the Rescue Wing's ability to communicate with an array of agencies during emergencies. "These funds, along with matching funds from the County and Southampton Town will help to ensure the "Wing" has the communication tools needed to enhance their domestic response capabilities," said Bellone.
"During Super Storm Sandy, the 106th Rescue Wing provided vital resources to Suffolk County, including an essential command and control link between military and civilian agencies, swift water rescue support, and personnel to assist the Suffolk County Police Department and town and village police departments with relief supply distribution, gas station traffic control efforts and anti-looting patrols. As the magnitude of this disaster required all hands on deck, the 106th Rescue Wing truly lived up to the task and we are thankful for the partnership in helping to provide public safety for Suffolk County residents . . . The 106th Rescue Wing has an important role in the defense of our nation, and is an equally important community resource as evidenced in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy."
"The 106th Rescue Wing is proud to partner with Suffolk County and the surrounding community in the recent award of a New York Military Base Retention Grant," said 106th Rescue Wing Commander Colonel Thomas Owens. "In the wake of Super Storm Sandy, the Wing continues to support the cleanup efforts with members on State Active Duty while also fulfilling our federal mission with many members currently deployed overseas through 2013."
The money will also underscore the value of the base and the need to keep it. Several years ago, its closure was threatened, and saving the base became an issue embraced by myriad elected officials and community organizations.
Bellone reported the funding will further safeguard ANG's future. Suffolk County applied for the grant in August under the NYESD Military Base Retention Grant Program, which is designed to enhance the competitiveness of the base during federal base realignments and closures expected in future defense budget cuts.
"The award of this grant will not only facilitate rapid response to future critical missions but also continues to affirm and strengthen our partnerships; we are grateful for the tremendous support from Suffolk County and all our elected leaders," said Owens.
The base at Gabreski is one of ten major military installations in New York State. The grant is available to municipalities with a demonstrated history of support for military bases in New York.
For several years, Suffolk County has been assisting the 106th ROW to remain competitive with other bases around the country by making significant improvements to the aviation infrastructure used both by the Air National Guard and civilian aircraft at Gabreski Airport. The matching portion of the grant will be covered by lease revenue generated from the Westhampton Business District, an industrial park on airport grounds. Under Federal Aviation Administration regulations, revenue generated from enterprises on airport grounds must be used for airport purposes, including improvements.
"The 106th Rescue Wing is an essential part of the security for our region and the fabric of the local community. This grant award is tremendously important to protecting a key economic engine for the area, and a source of immense community pride," the county executive said.
Bellone noted that in addition to its role in providing national defense and emergency response, ANG makes a significant contribution to the local economy. "This base provides jobs, training and a career path for many men and women in the local community. These highly skilled military jobs must stay in Suffolk," he said. Statewide, military bases account for more than 10,000 direct jobs and an economic impact of more than $1.9 billion.
The 106th Rescue Wing has a storied history of service on the domestic front. In 1996, they were the first aircraft on the scene of the TWA Flight 800 crash; in 1999, they located the transponder from the wreckage of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s downed aircraft, and in 2001, they were the first Air National Guard personnel to respond to the World Trade Center.