Opposition to training was real

Published 9:46 am Saturday, August 20, 2011

For several years, citing it as a cost-cutting initiative, the Navy has sought to find a location where pilots of E-2 and C-2 propeller planes could practice the skills required to land their aircraft on aircraft carriers.

The pilots of these Norfolk-based planes have previously been deployed to Jacksonville, Fla., for weeks at a time to conduct their training. The Navy’s assertion has been that, by finding an airfield closer to the planes’ home base at Chambers Field, millions of dollars could be saved in fuel and other related costs associated with the lengthy deployments.

Until the Franklin City Council ended its negotiations with the Navy, due in large part to residents’ protest over noise and safety issues and the uncertainty of the financial impact, Franklin Municipal Airport was under consideration for the project.

This week, the Navy suspended its environmental assessment of the Emporia-Greensville Regional Airport that was being conducted to determine the field’s suitability as a location for the propeller plane landing practice. Unlike the controversy that unfolded in Franklin, the process under way in Emporia met with little resistance from residents and appeared on its way to a speedy approval.

That is until the Navy officer charged with seeing the project through revealed some surprising information in a letter he sent to the commanding officer of Fleet Forces Command and then later released to the press.

As it turns out, according to Commander Matt Baker’s letter, such an arrangement with a local airfield would significantly increase the costs associated with the training in question. In addition, Baker identified a location at an existing Navy facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore as one that could accommodate the pilots’ training requirements and reduce the Navy’s current expenses.

The patriotism of many Franklin residents and their willingness to support the needs of military personnel in pursuit of national defense has been called into question due to their objection over a project that, from the outset, seemed unnecessary. Given the commander’s recent revelations, could it be that those who were opposed had a valid point after all?