Grant would benefit Gabreski-based Air Guard unit

(l-r) TSgt. Mike Merced, of Patchogue, SSgt. Mike

(l-r) TSgt. Mike Merced, of Patchogue, SSgt. Mike Pelosi, of Hampton Bays, and MSgt. Brian Cavanagh, of Mt. Sinai, run during a fire blanket excercise as members of the 106th Air National Guard Rescue Wing, based on Long Island, are taught basic wildfire techniques by NYS Forest Rangers at an area on the outskirts of Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach. (Aug. 3, 2012) (Credit: Steve Pfost)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has applied for a $126,000 grant from the New York Empire State Development Corporation's military base retention program to improve communications equipment for the 106th Air National Guard Rescue Wing based at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, with a bit of the money set aside to help lobby to keep it there.

The county would match the grant, with $10,000 of its $126,000 coming from Southampton Town, whose supervisor, Anna Throne-Holst, called the Air Guard unit "a key economic engine for the area."

Most of the money would be used to buy two wideband radio base stations with accessories, batteries, special antennas, chargers and multiband microphones, which would be used by the Air Guard. A small part of the grant would be used to pay for local officials to go to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the unit at Gabreski to be protected from federal defense cuts.

The unit, which generates 1,100 full- and part-time jobs, was on a list of military bases to be closed in 2005 under the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, but was saved after intensive lobbying from the local community and the county.

Officials expect another BRAC review in the future because of federal budget cuts.

In February, state Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) lobbied successfully to include $5 million in the state budget to help retain military facilities in New York.

Col. Thomas J. Owens II, commander of the 106th Air Rescue Wing, said in a prepared statement that the unit "is certainly fortunate to have extremely strong and committed partnerships with Suffolk County and our greater Long Island communities."

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