The Air Force is downsizing a base in western Massachusetts. The Westover Air Force Reserve Base in Chicopee is going to lose both aircraft and jobs.
The Air Force is going to transfer half of the fleet of 16 C-5 cargo planes now assigned to Westover to a base in Texas and eliminate 334 jobs. The changes are the result of deep budget cuts at the Pentagon. Brig. Gen. Steven Vautrain, the commander of the 439th airlift wing at Westover, said people on the base were saddened, but not terribly surprised by Monday’s announcement.
" Westover is going to stay here for a long time. It is a wonderful base. We have great support from the community and we plan on being here for the long haul."
Most of the jobs being cut are airplane mechanics. Vautrain said he was optimistic that 59 fulltime employees who will lose their current jobs can be retrained to fill other vacant positions at the base. It is less likely, however that new jobs can be found for the 275 reservists slated to be let go.
" We're going to take care of our people. We'd like to keep them all here, we probably won't be able to do that, but we'll keep as many as we can," said Vautrain.
The changes are to be finalized in 18 months as the Air Force downsizes to satisfy a Congressional demand to cut the defense budget by $487 billion over the next eight years.
The Air Force is upgrading the entire C-5 fleet of more than 40 planes. Westover will get eight of the refurbished models and will be expected to fly the same number of missions it does now despite having fewer planes, according to Vautrain.
Westover played a major role over the last decade ferrying troops and equipment to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Massachusetts officials have been worried about how Pentagon downsizing will affect the state’s six military bases. Gov. Deval Patrick created a task force in 2012 to work with local government and business leaders on ways to preserve the bases.
" We interact with the task force quite often, and I've spoken with the governor. They do everything they can to help us, but this a big problem for the U.S. in general because of the budget crisis we are having," said Vautrain.
Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos said the cuts announced Monday are “disheartening.” He said in a statement he would work with state and federal officials to address the impact.
Because the cuts won’t take effect for 18 months there is time to help out the people who will lose jobs, according to Kimberly Babin, the city of Chicopee’s Veterans’ Services Director.
" Our relationship with the community is good. We work with the chamber of commerce and all the local businesses, so we constantly have jobs posted. We also work with Career Point in Holyoke."
The Westover base has about 5,500 employees. Together with the 1,000 employees at the Barnes Air National Guard base in Westfield, the two bases are the region’s fifth- largest employer.