BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Flying Jennies are staying in Biloxi. The Air Force has officially abandoned plans to deactivate the 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, which would have transferred the squadron's 10 C-130J transport aircraft to another state.
The decision was formally submitted to defense committees in Congress on Tuesday.
The 815th is best known for air dropping supplies and paratroopers but can also be used to provide airlift, employment operations or aero medical evacuations.
The Air Force first proposed relocating the aircraft in February 2012 as a cost cutting measure. The 815th Air Squadron employs 501 employees, and more than 100 employees with the 345th Associate Squadron.
"The Air Force proposal to relocate aircraft from South Mississippi never made sense from an operational or taxpayer perspective, two points that we've stressed from the beginning. The reexamination and rejection of that plan is the right decision, and I look forward to additional conversations with the Air Force to ensure the manpower and mission of the 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron are fully restored," said Senator Thad Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense. "I am pleased to have worked with Senator Wicker, Congressman Palazzo and others to show that Keesler Air Force Base is the correct home for the Flying Jennies."
"Today's announcement is a major win for the future stability of Keesler Air Force Base, as well as the many communities and businesses that depend on it," said Sen. Roger Wicker, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and its Subcommittee on Airland. "We successfully made the case that the transfer of the planes would not achieve the savings the Air Force seemed to suggest. This was not an easy fight, but it was one that needed to be fought. I am grateful to Secretary James and General Welsh for working with us, and for recognizing the value that Keesler provides to the Air Force and the Gulf Coast."
"Today marks a great victory for South Mississippi. For more than three years we have demanded the Air Force provide adequate justification for moving our C-130Js. With today's confirmation that Keesler's planes will stay where they belong, we can finally put this issue to bed," said Congressman Steven Palazzo, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
"This is outstanding news for Keesler, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the entire state of Mississippi," Gov. Phil Bryant said. "Mississippi's military facilities are vital to the state's economy, and they are integral to the communities in which they are located. We have been working for several years to prevent the unjustified relocation of these aircraft, and today we see the results of our teamwork. I thank Sen. Cochran, Sen. Wicker and Congressman Palazzo for their efforts."
Last July, the Air Force withdrew a provision in its November 2013 deactivation notice that prohibited replacing personnel for the 815th Airlift Squadron. Dropping that provision allowed the unit to maintain its current strength at Keesler while the congressional delegation worked to retain the squadron and the Flying Jennies in South Mississippi.