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NAS Fort Worth celebrates 20th anniversary

In 1991, the future of Carswell Air Force Base didn’t look good.

The base had been recommended for closure by the Department of Defense, a potentially staggering blow to Fort Worth.

“When they made that announcement, it was like a gut punch to us,” said U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, who was serving on the Fort Worth City Council at the time and would soon be elected mayor.

But Granger would fight along with then-U.S. Rep. Pete Geren and other civic leaders to save the base, a fixture on Fort Worth’s west side.

“We just went to work,” said Granger, R-Fort Worth. “We fought the decision. We said, ‘You can’t close this base. It has a runway and a tower that Lockheed has to use.’ ”

After a lengthy battle, the Department of Defense made a recommendation to move Naval Air Station Dallas to Fort Worth, as well as consolidating commands from naval air stations from Illinois and Tennessee. Congress signed off in September 1993 and on Oct. 1, 1994, Carswell became Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth.

Twenty years later, Granger, Mayor Betsy Price and a host of dignitaries came to the base to celebrate the 20th anniversary of it becoming the nation’s first joint reserve base.

NAS Fort Worth is now home to 10,370 military personnel and civilians, with the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Air National Guard and Army all having full-time and reserve personnel at the base.

‘Very lively’

The reserve base’s role has changed with the times.

The deployments of National Guard units to both Afghanistan and Iraq has made the reserve base a busy place. It has planes flying along the U.S.-Mexico border looking for narcotics and smugglers and also has intelligence units stationed here.

“Especially since 9-11, the deployment schedule has been very lively,” said Navy Capt. Gil Miller, the base’s commanding officer.

Miller cannot predict the base’s future, but he said having all branches of the armed forces on hand can’t hurt.

“Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps is vested here,” Miller said. “Just based on that alone, I think the base is vested for the next 20 years.”

Miller also said the level of support is unusual in Fort Worth where nearby residents actually ask for the planes to fly over their homes.

‘Fight over everything’

With a State Comptroller’s 2012 report estimating the base has a $2.3 billion annual economic impact, Price said all Tarrant County cities must remain poised to fight for the base. The report didn’t include Lockheed or the Federal Medical Center, a federal prison for women, which is located at the base.

“It’s calm right now but we can never let our guard down,” Price said.

Granger referred to the issue that arose in 2012 when the Pentagon tried to move eight C-130 Hercules aircraft from Fort Worth to Montana. The planes have been key players in the state’s response to natural disasters such as hurricanes, when they have been used to transport supplies and evacuate people.

That effort was eventually rebuffed.

But Granger said that experience should serve as a reminder for civic leaders not to take the base’s future for granted.

“That’s a lesson you never forget,” Granger said. “I’ll never forget it and we’ll never be caught unaware. I watch this base all the time and I fight over every plane we lose. I fight over everything.”

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