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Panetta says he is "committed" to Niagara Falls air base

Chris Caya/WBFO News

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta offered encouraging words after he toured the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station Thursday. In a speech delivered to hundreds of base personnel,  Panetta said that he was"committed" to protecting the base and finding a new mission for its employees.

"Let me be very clear. The Department of Defense is committed to protecting New York's Air National Guard. It's the largest in the country. I think it's one of the best. And I also want to make clear that we are committed to maintaining this base for the future," Panetta said.

"We're counting on this base. It's important geographically. It's important to the mission that we need to look forward to. One of the things we're going to be doing is making investments here."

Panetta said the DOD is going to upgrade eight C-130s and replace them over five years with the C-130H3s. He said he government is also going to invest $6.1 million in order to create a C-130 flight simulator.

Panetta, the highest ranking federal official to ever tour the installation,  met with some members of the local Washington delegation, including Senator Charles Schumer and Representatives Kathy Hochul and Brian Higgins.

The future of the base remains a subject of speculation as  Congress continues to haggle over budget priorities. The largest employer in Niagara County, the base is home to the 914th Airlift Wing and the 107th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard.  

Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News

Schumer said Panetta's visit could not have gone any better. 

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