Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst (JBMDL) solidifies its position in national defense, as it becomes one of only two bases in America designated to home-port the Air Force's new KC-46A air-to-air refueling craft.

(Photo of KC-46; courtesy of Military.com)

The Defense Department also chose Travis Air Force Base in California, completing a protracted selection process that focused for the past year on five bases nationwide.

New Jersey's entire Congressional delegation formed a unified front in supporting the Joint Base's case for appointment.

"The Air Force has recognized the base's strategic value, and expressed confidence in its ability to be part of America's national security strategy for decades to come...and I think that last caveat's very important...for decades to come," said U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

"Not only is it important for our national security, that comes first and foremost," Menendez said, "but it's also incredibly important for New Jersey's economy. The Joint Base is the second-largest employer in the state. It supports more than 40,000 jobs. It has nearly $7,000,000,000 in annual economic activity that it spins off."

Shore-based Representative Tom MacArthur (R-3), who early in his first term prioritized the battle to secure the new assignment for the base, commended the team effort that also included hundreds of state, county and local officials in and around Ocean and Burlington Counties.

"...and because of that, over 42,000 New Jersey residents in my district who are employed at the base and the thousands of additional jobs in the surrounding area that rely on its survival can breathe easy knowing the Joint Base will remain our nation’s premier air mobility installation by becoming the new home of the KC-46 air-to-air refueling tanker," MacArthur said.

“This is great news for Ocean County, for New Jersey and for homeland security,” said County Freeholder Director Joe Vicari, liaison to the Ocean County Military Support Committee. “We are so pleased the Joint Base has been named the preference for this mission."

KC-46A Refueling Tanker (Boeing)

The refueling craft replaces the aging KC-10, which MacArthur successfully protected from mothballs during his first term, buying time to build JBMDL's case for the KC-46A. It will also eventually replace the Navy's KC-135, which shares space at the Joint Base.

“The men and women here have the knowledge and experience to work with this new generation of aircraft,” noted County Freeholder John Kelly, who played an integral role in protecting JBMDL during Base Realignment and Closure procedures in 1995 and 2005.

The Air Force plans to phase in the new aircraft by 2020, completing the transition by 2023. Menendez noted that the competition among the short list of five bases was fierce.

"I can tell you, for a fact," he said, "that senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that has jurisdiction over the Department of Defense and Air Force, as well as senior members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, that holds the budget purse, were advocating for their own states."

"So, I want to salute the Joint Base command leadership," he continued, "that had done an outstanding job of preparing for the highly-competitive selection process."

There wasn't a lightweight among the top five. What tipped the scale?

"I think the Joint Base's existing assets, and its facilities, that can provide unparalleled capabilities as the Air Force's main operating base for the KC-46A" was evident to military officials, Menendez said, "and that also can seamlessly absorb the mission with limited investment of Air Force dollars."

Another major factor is JBMDL's location on the Eastern Seaboard.

"This is the nearest airbase to Europe and an ideal location for the deployment of forces overseas and the Middle East,” said County Freeholder Gerry Little, the Board's liason to veterans' services. “Our Joint Base has a long history and has played a vital role in maintaining our forces around the world. It is critical to our national defense."

Burlington County-based State Senator Diane Allen (R-7), who sponsored a resolution urging the Department of Defense to select JBMDL, responded enthusiastically to word of the decision.

“The base is going to be an outstanding home for these new jets since it already has the infrastructure and facilities needed thanks to its existing contingent of older tanker aircraft,” she said.

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