Public comment peirod still open
Written testimony can be submitted until Dec. 9. Comments can be submitted online by <a href="http://www.kc-46a-beddown.com/" target="_blank"><b>clicking here</b></a>.
WICHITA, Kan. -- Hundreds of people attended a U.S. Air Force hearing in Wichita Tuesday evening to show their support for McConnell Air Force Base landing a new tanker mission in 2016.
The hearing was part of the environmental impact study the Air Force must complete before deciding where the KC-46A refueling tanker will be based.
In May, the Air Force said McConnell is the preferred Main Operating Base for the new plane. Everybody who spoke during Tuesday's hearing said strong community support is a major part of McConnell's environment.
"You have the opportunities here that you don't have in a lot of places," said Leon Skelton of Wichita.
Those opportunities are why Skelton -- once a McConnell Airman -- retired to Wichita after his 30-year Air Force career. The opportunities for Air Force families, he said, are why the KC-46A belongs at McConnell.
"You can go to college here, you have great medical care here; everything," he said. "When you're off on a mission someplace, you know your family is going to be here and comfortable."
Construction to accommodate 36 of the next generation of tankers could mean up to $193 million in economic activity to the Wichita area. McConnell already has an annual $600 million economic impact on south-central Kansas.
That impact is likely felt most strongly in Derby.
"In Derby, we not only see the economics of it, but we also see the human side," said Kathy Sexton, Derby City Manager. "More than 800 kids go to Derby public schools. A lot of the McConnell Airmen live in Derby and shop in Derby and eat in Derby."
Air Force officials have said McConnell enjoys some of strongest community support of any base.
The 22 people providing testimony during the hearing and many of the 260 people simply attending the hearing to show their support and learn more about the new tanker program said that support is the result of a strong partnership between the Wichita area and the Air Force.
"We support McConnell and I think McConnell should support us," said Kendra Kingland of Wichita. "We're a working group."
The KC-135 tankers currently stationed at McConnell fly over Bill Nestleroad's house. He attended the hearing because he doesn't want the Air Force Base to go anywhere.
"There's a lot of money that's spent from personnel out there," he said. "It would be very devastating if were were to lose the base or even a wing."
As essential as McConnell may be to the Wichita area, Skelton said McConnel is essential to the success of the KC-46A mission.
"When a person is off flying on one of these tankers or fixing on it someplace overseas, they know that their family has got a good place to live and comfortable and it leaves them with less worries and more concentration on fixing the airplanes and flying the airplanes," he said.