By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — NIMAC, another alphabet soup organization that deserves some applause for its success in living up to its mission, is the topic of discussion this week.
According to its website, “The mission of the Niagara Military Affairs Council is to support the continued growth and prosperity of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. NIMAC serves as a liaison to promote communication between the base, the community, other local military units, business and government.”
The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is a U.S. Air Force base, located at the Niagara Falls International Airport. It is home to the Air Force Reserve Command’s 914th Airlift Wing. The 328th Airlift Squadron operates Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft from this airfield. The New York Air National Guard’s 107th Airlift Wing (107AW) shares the 914the AW’s C-130 aircraft.
NIMAC was formed in 1996 following a grueling public discourse involving the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRACC). The commission recommended closure of the Falls air base as part of its national mission to reduce military installations as established by the Department of Defense. Surviving this round of closures, NIMAC was organized to oppose any future closure possibilities.
The mission was tested again in 2005 when the Department of Defense’s BRACC recommended the closure of the United States Army Reserve Center and Army Maintenance Support Activity at Niagara Falls. Since NIMAC had been working closely with congressional leaders urging update of the facilities and increase missions, they were called into action again and once more were successful in keeping the base open and operating. The commission found that the savings associated with closing the Falls air base were overestimated by the Department of Defense as a result of recent cost reductions.
Local leader Merrell Lane serves as long-time chairperson of the board of directors and along with John Cooper, current Vice-Chairperson, they have become the face and the voice of this organization since its inception. Working with lobbyists Hyjek and Fix in the nation’s capitol and with the assistance of our area’s former Congressional representative Louise Slaughter, former Congressman Thomas Reynolds and U. S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, they were able to retain and further update these important local facilities.
That is until earlier this year when the threat loomed again with the announcement of the loss of one thousand jobs at the facility. Once again local government leaders came to the rescue with U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Hochul bringing the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to the base for a first-hand look and his statement of commitment to the facility.
In between all this crisis management, Lane and John Cooper spent countless hours raising funds to offset the costs relative to their mission and keeping the status quo of the organization up and running.
NIMAC attends deployments and homecomings of area military members. They make annual visits to Washington and Albany to keep elected and military leaders informed of their needs and activities. They have strong connections to the local community who have rallied to assist them in keeping the base open during the tumultuous times. I recall standing along Lockport Road one year with hundreds of others waving a flag and holding a sign opposing the possible base closure as the cars drove by on their visit of determination. Over 126,300 letters of support from the community were collected, the most for any base in the nation.
They are part of a 16-member board of directors which meets quarterly to offer assistance in sponsoring events such as the Thunder of Niagara Open House and Air show. They have also hosted visits by the USAF Tops in Blue and help provide Honor Guards for community events. NIMAC sponsors a Family Readiness Center, annual DWI Student Education, community blood drives and assists in the U. S. Postal Service Food Drive.
NIMAC members are proud of their accomplishments for the Niagara Air Reserve Station which is the largest employer in Niagara County counting over 3,500 full- and part-time personnel. Over the past 16 years of their existence there have been over $200 million in improvements at the base.
Recipients of many community awards for their volunteer service, Merrell and John remain humble as they go about the community keeping the understanding of the importance of the air base to the economic health of the area. They continue to stress the importance of this the last federal U.S. Air Force installation in the state of New York and the largest facility in the region.
You can become a member and help strengthen NIMAC in its efforts on behalf of the men and women of the military stationed in our area. Membership is open to business, service clubs, individuals and groups interested in helping NIMAC work locally and with government officials both in Albany and the nation’s capitol. A membership form is available on the following website: www.nimac.org.
Recent news hinted at the possibility of drones making a home base at this facility. Maybe that will make their job easier. Only time will tell if the community has to rise into action again. In the meantime, let’s give a cheer (or two) for this hard working organization, the Niagara Military Affairs Council.
Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.