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Military official promises Keesler’s 815th will return to full strength

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 C-130s at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi assigned to the 403rd wing including the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's Hurricane Hunters and the Flying Jennies of the 815th Airlift Squadron.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD C-130s at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi assigned to the 403rd wing including the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's Hurricane Hunters and the Flying Jennies of the 815th Airlift Squadron. SUN HERALD

The U.S. Air Force is committed to fully staffing the reactivated 815th Airlift Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, the Air Force Reserve chief told a Senate subcommittee Thursday.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a press release he brought up the staffing issue at an appropriations subcommittee hearing to review the budget request for the National Guard and Reserve for the 2017 fiscal year.

Cochran, R-Miss., and members of the Mississippi congressional delegation led an effort to persuade the Air Force to reverse its 2013 decision to deactivate the 815th Airlift Squadron and transfer its C-130J "Flying Jennies" transport aircraft. The decision led the Air Force to draw down airlift-squadron personnel at Keesler.

For two years, the Mississippi lawmakers fought the decision and argued the action made no sense from a cost-savings perspective. In April, the Air Force rescinded the deactivation order. Cochran has since focused on rebuilding the staffing required to execute this airlift mission in Mississippi.

"We're interested in seeing that the 815th Airlift Squadron is given adequate manpower and support to perform its missions," Cochran said. "I would like to be sure that the Air Force and Air Force Reserve have the resources needed to complete the reactivation of this squadron as soon as possible."

In response, Lt. Gen. James Jackson, Chief of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, testified documents are in place to bring the 815th up to full strength. Jackson said the Air Force is committing "reserve appropriation days and dollars" to fill full-time positions associated with returning the squadron to full strength in 2019.

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