Worries about the future of Offutt Air Force Base have prompted the Nebraska Congressional delegation to actively seek to repair its aging runway and enhance its mission.
Gov. Pete Ricketts has joined the delegation in work to protect the base, one of the largest employers in Nebraska and a matter of great prestige to the state.
The Offutt Air Force Base Task Force formed at the end of last year to coordinate efforts to repair the aging runway at the base and to keep it from falling victim to Defense Department budget cuts.
Creation of the task force was the idea of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, who said during a news conference hosted by Gov. Ricketts in his Capitol office that he doesn’t believe Offutt is truly threatened.
“You can never say never, but at the same time, the position that Offutt and Strategic Command have as an essential component of American security is very, I believe, a very high priority for the Defense Department,” according to Fortenberry.
Fortenberry acknowledged the Air Force has excess inventory. He said it is important for Nebraska to see the base is well maintained and has the missions necessary to keep it viable.
Design of the new Offutt runway is estimated at $7 million with repair of the runway expected to cost $125 million.
Fortenberry said the design cost is included in the budget now and, if normal procedure is followed, construction would be budgeted afterward.
Fortenberry said Air Force personnel who have served at Offutt seem to grow fond of the base and the state.
“It’s not only a critical piece of infrastructure for our national security, but the quality of life, the experience that our military personnel have here is exceptional and we’re proud of that and that’s one thing that, again, we’re all committed to enhancing,” Fortenberry said.
Gov. Ricketts said it is important that the Defense Department understand the local support for Offutt.
“This is going to be a team effort,” Ricketts stated. “I think that one of the reasons why we wanted to make sure we were all communicating is because there are a lot of moving parts and we wanted to show the Defense Department and the Air Force that they’ve got the community here to support them, that you’ve got the federal delegation, you’ve got the local community leaders, you got state leaders. We’re all on board. This is important to us. We want to make sure that it happens.”
Congressman Brad Ashford said those states that make sure Washington understands there is local support fare best, “…the commitment of this community and this state is a little bit unprecedented.”
Congressman Adrian Smith also is lending his support to the task force.
Offutt Air Force Base is best known as the home of the United States Strategic Command, but also is home to the 55th Wing, the 557th Weather Wing, and more than 50 partner units. Located in Bellevue, it is one of the largest employers in Nebraska with 10,000 military and federal employees assigned there.