DDN Investigates: The impact of WPAFB

Insider tells how the community works to land missions for Wright-Patt

Ohio has saved two military bases from closing and seen significant growth at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Community support and lawmakers persuading the military of the value of those bases and the people working there proved key, said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president for federal government programs.

In a recent interview with the Dayton Daily News, Gessel shared lessons from the last round of federal base closures called BRAC and outlined how the coalition, community and Congressional delegation work together to protect Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

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The Springfield Air National Guard Base lost its mission training U.S. pilots to fly F-16s in the 2005 BRAC. But the local community and allies in Congress worked to find it new missions, Gessel said, eventually winning missions flying drones and doing intelligence work.

Shield for 178th Wing Ohio Air National Guard located at Springfield Air National Guard Base. 2019
Photo: Staff Writer

RELATED: Wright Patt lands $500K in state funding to protect base

With no BRAC scheduled, the real game now is to gain new missions and keep existing ones.

Sometimes a proposed change will be announced publicly, other times Congress will hear of it or there will be informal tips.

“Our first judgment call is, ‘Do we have a shot?’” Gessel said.

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Michael Gessel, vice president for federal government programs and lobbyist for the Dayton Development Coalition
Photo: Staff Writer

With the F-35 Hybrid Product Support Integrator Organization, a support service for the F-35 Lightning II single-seat fighter jet with an estimated 400 jobs, it was clear Wright-Patt had a good shot.

“At that point it’s not so much a matter of convincing the agency, as it is nursing the original view of the agency to make sure it doesn’t change,” Gessel said.

Wright-Patt won the Air Force recommendation for the F-35 support mission, although the move isn’t finalized.

A formation of F-35 Lightning IIs from the 388th Fighter Wing and 419th FW stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, perform aerial maneuvers during as part of a combat power exercise over Utah Test and Training Range, Nov. 19, 2018. The exercise aims to confirm their ability to quickly employ a large force of jets against air and ground targets, and demonstrate the readiness and lethality of the F-35A. As the first combat-ready F-35 unit in the Air Force, the 388th and 419th FWs are ready to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment s notice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cory D. Payne)
Photo: Staff Writer

RELATED: 3 reasons Wright-Patterson is top choice for F-35 program

It’s sometimes hard to gauge how much influence the local delegation has when communities are competing for missions, Gessel said.

“We try to watch what other delegations are doing and they of course are watching what we’re doing,” Gessel said. “And if we get a sense that another Congressional delegation is pushing very hard, then we will encourage our delegation to push with equal strength so that the decision is not going to fall on who makes the biggest push.”

RELATED: What’s important to protect Wright-Patt and what’s Dayton doing about it

Members will write letters, ask questions at hearings, meet with military officials and ask for briefings. He said very rarely a member will get heavy-handed, perhaps holding up a nomination or appropriation. But that can backfire and cause the military to dig in its heels and the executive branch to assert its powers.

The U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees

The coalition plays the “long game,” Gessel said.

“Our goal is not to win everything; not even to win most things,” Gessel said. “It’s to win the significant ones and we do not want to jeopardize our relationship with the Air Force and with the defense department over small items when the long game is the long-term health of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the ongoing relationship between our community and the leaders of the Air Force.”


RELATED: ‘Magnet for high tech:’ How research drives Wright-Patt’s $15.5B impact

RELATED:  Here’s a look at what exactly happens at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

RELATED: Insider tells how the community works to land missions for Wright-Patt

RELATED: What’s important to protect Wright-Patt and what’s Dayton doing about it

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