BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "Today marks a victory for South Mississippi." That was how Congressman Steven Palazzo's responded after learning that the Flying Jennies are staying at Keesler. It has been a hard-fought battle to keep the planes and the squadron in Biloxi.
The secretary of the Air Force has submitted a report to Congress, citing her intention to keep the Flying Jennies at Keesler Air Force Base. WLOX asked the commander of the 403rd Wing at Keesler how the unit is reacting to that decision.
"I expect that they're going to be pretty happy about the news," said Colonel Frank Amodeo.
The Air Force has tried several times before to deactivate the 815th airlift squadron and transfer ten C-130-Js to Pope Field in North Carolina. Biloxi city leaders said such a move would have been a big blow to the Mississippi Gulf Coast economy.
"It's not just the pilots leaving, it's all their support staff, all the people that keep the planes running. It'd be a lot of money taken out of circulation and the economy," said Biloxi Chief Administrative Officer David Nichols.
That's why Mississippi's governor and congressional delegation fought the attempts to relocate the aircraft, along with hundreds of employees and their families.
"It is a big day and it culminates a three-year battle that we've had, and basically, we were able to insist that the Air Force makes the case that this would actually save money," said Sen. Roger Wicker.
"This is outstanding news for Keesler, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and the entire state of Mississippi. We have been working for several years to prevent the unjustified relocation of these aircraft and today we see the results of our teamwork," said Governor Phil Bryant.
"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.
"We're really pleased. Our congressional delegation has worked real hard, as well as a lot of local people have worked really hard. It says a lot about our Keesler Air Force Base and what they're able to do," said Nichols.
The Air Force report is only a proposal. Congress still has 60-days to take action. For now though, the planes and the reservists behind this flying mission will continue to soar over the skies of Biloxi.
"There are 155 employees at Keesler that are going to be able to keep their jobs in Mississippi, along with their families because of this. Having worked with them for the last three years, I can imagine that they're delighted, not only for Keesler and for South Mississippi, but also for national security and the efficient use of our scarce military dollars," said Wicker.
"Through it all, the morale of the men and women at Keesler and the families has actually been pretty high, considering what they've gone through. I'm very proud of them," said Col. Amodeo.
The Air Force proposal does not affect the Hurricane Hunters, which are part of the 403rd Reserve Wing.