By Jack Coleman
Third time may not be the charm for the 102nd Fighter Interceptor Wing.
The wing is based at Otis Air National Guard Base, the only active air defense base on the East Coast between Washington, D.C., and the Canadian border.
Its F-15 Eagles, capable of flying at more than twice the speed of sound, were the first military aircraft to scramble after al Qaeda terrorists hijacked commercial jets on Sept. 11, 2001.
And while the 102nd has survived two other rounds of base closings since the late 1980s, its 1,100 personnel may not be so lucky this time around.
They won't have to wait long to find out. The Pentagon is expected to announce next month its recommendations for closing up to one-quarter of the bases around the country.
In the meantime, the military and civilian personnel at the sprawling, 22,000-acre military reservation on the Upper Cape are anxious.
"They tell me they are real concerned," Matt Patrick said.
State Rep. Matt Patrick, D-Falmouth, said many people who work at the base and live in the surrounding towns have said they are nervous about what could happen.
"They tell me they are real concerned," Patrick said.
Patrick described the base as "the biggest employer in my district, if not the Cape."
The military reservation is also home to the Massachusetts Army National Guard training site at Camp Edwards; the 253rd Combat Communications Group; the 6th Space Warning Squadron phased array radar site (also known as PAVE PAWS) at the Cape Cod Air Force Station; and the US Coast Guard at Air Station Cape Cod.
The reservation is also a major training center for troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and numerous military units based there have been deployed abroad in the last three years.
Concern over the base's fate prompted military officials to request a meeting last month with members of the Cape's legislative delegation and Mark Forest, district aide to U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass.
Bay State politicians appeared more concerned over the fate of the Hanscom base with little attention directed towards the base on Cape Cod
Published reports before the meeting showed that Bay State politicians appeared more concerned over the fate of the Hanscom base west of Boston, with little attention being directed towards the base on Cape Cod.
At the meeting, military commanders said the base could be vulnerable due to its high cost to maintain. Air Guard units, for example, are typically situated at commercial or municipal airports.
This was the case with the state Air Guard, which was based at Logan International Airport before moving to the Cape in 1969.
Winter 2005 may have been a final straw
Prior to the move, the cost of maintenance, snow removal and other expenses was borne by Massport. After the Air Guard moved to Otis, the military covered these costs, making the base more expensive than others of comparable size and mission.
The fighter wing could also be reassigned to another base while other military commands remained at the military reservation on the Cape.
The drawn-out and expensive cleanup of groundwater polluted by the military has also caused problems for the Pentagon and could mean the military commands at the MMR are vulnerable.
Otis located in one of White House's least favorite places
Political machinations may also play a role - the reservation is situated in Massachusetts, one of President George W. Bush's least favorite states and home to two of his principal Democratic antagonists, Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry.
Cliff McDonald, the public affairs officer for the 102nd, declined to return phone calls seeking comment.
If the reservation and its various military components survives the next round, military officials will continue work on a major priority, the Northeast Regional Training Center for Homeland Security.
Also of concern to officials on the base is state funding for various projects, such as a new fire station and control tower. Patrick has filed a budget amendment for "not less than $4 million" for new and renovated facilities on the base.
In addition to its military uses, the base is home to a 600-acre national cemetery, a school for children from Bourne, the new Barnstable County jail, and offices for the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration and the federal Department of Agriculture, among others.
The facility was first used for military training in 1911 by the National Guard. It became a major training center for the US Army during World War II and was transferred to the Air Force after the war, which is why it is still often referred to as Otis Air Force Base.
Thirty years ago, the Army National Guard took control of Camp Edwards from the US Army while the Air Force's departure gave Otis a new title - Otis Air National Guard Base.
In the early 1960s Otis was a frequent stop for Air Force One when John F. Kennedy was president. It was at the base hospital in August 1963 that his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, gave birth to their son Patrick, who died only days after he was born.