Metro-East News

August 5, 2014

'Hidden gem': Leaders trumpet Scott's No. 1 national ranking

The people charged with protecting Scott Air Force Base from future base closures are brainstorming ways to best promote Scott's ranking as the No. 1 place for airmen to be stationed.

John Lengerman, a member of the task force to defend Scott, said his group is already studying ways to include Scott's No. 1 ranking by Air Force Times in its promotional literature.

"I would think that we'll have some kind of strategy for that once we kind of pull it all together and make sure we feature it in a way that our board would agree would be the best advantage for us," said Lengerman, executive director of the Greater Belleville Area Chamber of Commerce.

In its July 28 issue, which first showed up on its web site a week ago, the Air Force Times ranked Scott in a tie with Wright Patterson Air Force Base, in southwestern Ohio, as the top place for an airman to be stationed out of 68 major stateside air bases.

The independently published Air Force Times cited a wide range of reasons for giving Scott the top nod, with the most important factors being the metro-east's low crime rates and housing prices relative to the rest of the nation, coupled with a 70-bed base hospital.

The Air Force Times package of stories detailing the best and worst air bases -- a reporting project that took eight months to complete -- quoted Col. Kyle Kremer, Scott's base commander, on how Scott is a "hidden gem" on the outskirts of metropolitan St. Louis.

"You can pick and choose what works for you and your family," Kremer told the publication. It's unlike any other place I've been stationed."

Rounding out the top five airbases were Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, outside Anchorage, Alaska; and Luke Air Force Base, near Glendale, Ariz.

Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, which oversees the task force to defend Scott --known officially as the Defense Assets Retention and Expansion Task Force -- plans to highlight Scott's top ranking alongside the mention of the Abilene Trophy the region won last year for being recognized as the most supportive community for an Air Mobility Command base.

"We're looking at a public relations strategy to communicate the No. 1 ranking we just received," said Ellen Krohne, the leadership council executive director.

What's more, the council plans to communicate Scott's No. 1 ranking to all members of the Illinois congressional delegation, so they can spread the good news about Scott to the rest of the U.S. Congress, Krohne said.

"That is part of what the our task force will be doing as we're meeting with people," she said. "We'll make sure we communicate the ranking and the importance of the low cost of living and low cost of housing and the importance of the proximity to St. Louis, the cultural amenities, the good schools."

Above all, Krohne added, "We just want to continue to reinforce what we have been saying about the region as a whole, and certainly Scott within that region."

The Air Force Times five worst air bases, in descending order, were Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.; Hanscom Air Force Base, near Bedford, Mass.; McConnell Air Force Base, outside Wichita, Kan.; Columbus Air Force Base, in Mississippi, and Los Angeles Air Force Base.

The bases with the lowest Air Force Times rankings were hurt by a mix factors, especially included high housing and cost-of-living prices, high local sales taxes and high crime rates, according to the survey.

In 2016, Congress is expected to appoint a new panel to determine which military bases across the United States should either be closed, consolidated or expanded. The last round of base closures occurred in 2005, costing taxpayers $35.1 billion, according to 2012 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Although gladdened by news of Scott's No. 1 ranking, Krohne said there is no guarantee the next base closure panel will take that lofty ranking into account when it ponders 97-year-old base's future.

"There's absolutely no guarantee for that," Krohne said. "I think we have to as a region stay vigilant and continue to work hard to make sure the story of the importance of the growth of Scott continues to be told. I think it would be a very bad mistake to step back and say, "Oh, well, we're OK.'"

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