Relief as two air bases escape U.S. cuts

By Liz HearnshawRESIDENTS living near two American air bases have welcomed the announcement neither site is to shut.U.S. military bosses in Europe have confirmed both RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath were “strategically enduring” and were air bases that they would go to great lengths to keep.

By Liz Hearnshaw

RESIDENTS living near two American air bases have welcomed the announcement neither site is to shut.

U.S. military bosses in Europe have confirmed both RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath were “strategically enduring” and were air bases that they would go to great lengths to keep.

The announcement comes after months of unease at the bases, prompted after officials warned some units may be relocated to Eastern Europe and task forces visited the two sites to pinpoint ways of cutting jobs.

Bruce Rutterford, chairman of Lakenheath Parish Council, said: “It is excellent news and we are very pleased.

“There are around 650 civilians employed at each base, and around 1,300 in total, so to lose one would have been a major blow. This is good news for a continued relationship.”

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Gerald Taylor-Balls, a member of Mildenhall Parish Council, said: “Obviously, there was a question mark over the future of the bases at one time, so it is good news that they intend to stay.

“The bases here act as a stepping stone between Europe and the States, so I personally couldn't see them going, especially as the refuelling wing at Mildenhall was used quite a bit during the war this year.

“The bases provide a lot of civilian jobs, while contract work also goes to the British, so one base closing would have had quite a big impact.”

The announcement has alleviated a potential employment crisis in the Mildenhall area, where 100 jobs have been lost following American-owned pharmaceutical company Schering Plough's decision to close its factory.

Earlier this year, major employer Parmalat Dairies announced about 150 jobs were to go after bosses planned to relocate their business.

John Taylor, chairman of the Mildenhall Community Partnership, said: “There is a certain amount of local employment which follows from the presence of the bases and we certainly did not want to lose those jobs.

“We tend to forget that the two bases serve totally different purposes, with one as an airport and another as a transport link between America and Germany, so it would be hard to close one.

“But with the dairy and Schering Plough both shutting, we did not want any more jobs to go, so this is really good news.”

The announcement was made in the forces' online newspaper, Stars and Stripes, when Major General James Jones, head of U.S. European Command, gave details of a services reorganisation that could include shutting some bases.

But when speaking of RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, he said: “These are places you would keep whatever you did.”

Major Francisco Hamm, of RAF Lakenheath, said: “Both RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall are strategically placed within the European theatre and we have not heard anything about them shutting.”

No-one from RAF Mildenhall wished to add anything further to Maj Gen Jones' comments.

liz.hearnshaw@eadt.co.uk

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