MADISON, Wis. - Madison's Truax Field is the preferred choice to house the next-generation F-35 fighter jet, the U.S. Air Force made official in an announcement Thursday.
Gov. Scott Walker celebrated with members of the 115th Fighter Wing at Truax on Thursday afternoon.
"This has a tremendous economic impact today. It will only be accelerated," Walker said. "In fact, dare I say it's like pouring jet fuel on the economic impact this will have in this community."
The decision means the U.S. Air Force intends to replace the F-16 fighter jets currently flown at the base with 20 F-35A Lightning II jets. The aircraft have been in development by the Air Force and Lockheed Martin for 17 years.
Madison beat out other locations being considered by the Air Force and the Department of Defense including Dannelly Field Air Guard Station in Montgomery, Alabama; Gowen Field Air Guard Station in Boise, Idaho; Jacksonville Air Guard Station in Florida and Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Detroit.
Dannelly Field Air Guard Station in Montgomery, Alabama, was announced as the second preferred location.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were celebrating after undertaking a major lobbying campaign on behalf of the Truax location.
In a statement, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, congratulated the men and women of the 115th Fighter Wing for their selection to be a "preferred location for the F-35 squadron."
Walker said in a tweet earlier Thursday that the selection was outstanding news for the state of Wisconsin. In the news conference, he said that Wisconsin's combination of Truax Field in Madison and Volk Field near Tomah put the state at the top of the scoring done by the Air Force and the Department of Defense.
"Because of our proximity, being 50 miles from here to Volk Field in minutes by aircraft, we knew we could save millions and millions of dollars every year as compared to other bases across the country," Walker said.
"I commend the Air Force's decision to select Truax Air National Guard Station as the next home for the F-35A Lightning II and the vital mission that the USAF's most advanced fighter aircraft will perform," Walker said in a release earlier Thursday. "The Air Force recognized Truax's unrivaled capabilities, meeting or exceeding all the necessary requirements for the mission, and the broad community support for the Wisconsin Air National Guard from the State of Wisconsin, the City of Madison and Dane County in making their announcement."
House Speaker Paul Ryan said the F-35s are expected to be at Truax by 2023.
“This decision boosts the Truax base, which is already such an integral part of the area, and contributes a great deal to our national security," Ryan said in a statement. "I want to congratulate all the people in the community who worked tirelessly to make this possible, but most importantly the men and women of the 115th Fighter Wing, who represent us with integrity and excellence every single day.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said this is great news for the future of the Wisconsin Air National Guard, the employees of Truax Field and all of southern Wisconsin.
"I applaud the Air Force for recognizing the strategic importance of our state, and I look forward to Wisconsin playing a major role as the Air Force modernizes and enhances its capabilities to keep America safe and secure," Johnson said in a statement.
Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin's adjutant general, said the Wisconsin National Guard was thrilled to be selected as one of the two preferred candidate bases in such a competitive strategic basing process.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said the city awaits results from an environmental impact statement, but his office is confident there is more good news to come.
"These aircraft will maintain the long-term economic stability of the field for decades to come," Soglin said in at statement. "The men and women employed at the facility are our friends and neighbors whose children attend our schools. The 750 Guard members and the over 400 employees of the facility are valued members of our community and I am delighted that their employment future is secure."
The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce released a statement Thursday in response to the announcement.
"We are extremely proud and excited about today’s announcement for the 1,200 airmen of the 115th Fighter Wing, as well as for Greater Madison’s economy. The selection of the 115th to receive the F-35A ensures the benefits of the base, including $100 million in annual economic impact, emergency services for Dane County Regional Airport and tuition support for area students who serve in the Guard – will remain in Greater Madison for decades to come."
“This selection would not have been possible without years of commitment from the Wisconsin Air National Guard, the leadership of the 115th, the advocacy of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation, state leaders and local elected officials from Dane County, the Chamber’s partnership with the Badger Air Community Council and everyone who has shown their support through the Together Truax initiative. We are incredibly thankful to all of them for their hard work and dedication to making this day a reality," chamber officials said.
Last year, Truax was announced as one of five bases being considered for the F-35 basing.
News 3 has previously reported that Madison benefits from having the fighter wing in the city because it gets a lot of protection from the Air National Guard, which houses the primary fire, crash and rescue crews for the Dane County Airport and provides fatality search-and-rescue crews and a mobile emergency room.
After some community members expressed concerns about the noise levels of the F-35, officials told News 3 that the level of noise would either stay the same or be lower.
Scott Walker made the formal announcement about Truax Air National Guard Station at a press conference Thursday.
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