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Keep politics out of Northrop Grumman-EADS contract

By By Lowell McGill
Many from here remember Brookley Air Base in Mobile. It was one of the nation's vital air bases and it provided jobs for thousands in the Mobile area. My dad, in fact closed his service station in 1940 to take a job there. Actually, he worked aboard a dredge boat that provided the landfill for Brookley. From that dredge work he went directly to Brookley to begin a 25 year career.
But there were many other area workers who made those treks to Mobile day after day. Many of you probably had kin or friends who worked there. It was, indeed, one of the most popular employment sites for our area.
I remember some of those from our area who were employed at Brookley. There was Willa Dean McCoy, Willie Grace Baggett, Carol Bryars, Nick Reeves, Calvin Hayles and others whose names escape me. The work force was basically eliminated in late 1960s when the base was phased out. Many of those who did not take retirement were transferred to Warner Robbins. Georgia where they fulfilled their retirement requirements.
Saying all this brings me to the topic of my column today.
I am sure you have been keeping up with the recent controversy regarded the Air Force's awarding a $40 billion contract to Northrop Grumman-EADS. Mobile is one of the "big cogs" in this contract as it would be on the receiving end of several hundred jobs. It could even possibly include Atmore's getting a share of those jobs with smaller plants or supply houses.
Well, Boeing has challenged this contract and politics have entered into it. In an Associated Press piece carried April 5, 2008 in the Mobile Press Register Alabama's Lt Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. has taken issue with some of other leading national Democrats who have sided with Boeing. I quote from the news article. "In a letter sent to nation's other lieutenant governors Friday, Folsom wrote the announcement by the Speaker of the House that congress would be investigating the awarding of the contract has created a whirlwind of media coverage. As a result a vast amount of misinformation has been reported surrounding the award, and making any partial evaluation of this situation problematic".
The piece also stated that Folsom had written on March 4, 2008 a letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow democrat, saying congressional hearings on the contract would delay its positive impact on Alabama.
Folsom was joined in his efforts to retain this contract by other national politicians.
In another article April 4, 2008 from this same paper written by George Talbot, Political Editor, he wrote "U.S. Senators Richard Shelby-R and Jeff Sessions-R urged their colleagues to remain objective and let the Government Accountability Office complete its review. We continue to believe the Air Force took great care to insure this was a fair, transparent and open acquisition process. Shelby and Sessions wrote in a letter sent Thursday to every member of the Senate"
Talbot, who wrote the contract will create 48,000, jobs at 230 companies in 49 states. Boeing's political supporters "included presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton." No mention was made of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Another article from the MPR April 4, 2008, came from the Washington Post and was written by Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Dana Hedgpeth.
It was pointed out that "Northrop-EADS team would assemble its tankers in a new $600 million complex in Mobile, creating 1500 new jobs while Boeing would do most of its work in existing facilities in Washington state and Kansas.
These writers wrote, even though the GAO has until June 19, 2008 to complete its review, "this is going to be with us until the November elections, if not beyond". The writers were quoting Richard Aboulafia an aviation analyst with the Teal group which is an aerospace consultant that says it has no stake in the fight.
It would appear that Mobile and area workers are just as talented and skilled as workers from other states. After all, Brookley Field proved its worth during its long tenure here. And Mobile and surrounding areas still hosts other well known successful Technology companies.
Former Brookley Field workers in various cities and towns even today hold "get to gathers" in memory of their years there. Many of these workers have now passed on, like my dad, but I read where some of the surviving workers enjoy their annual gatherings. I remember working a flood claim in 1985 for a man who lived near a small river in McClain, Ms, a town near Lucedale. He was a retired Brookley worker. We found much in common as he told me about his daily drives to Mobile. Like my dad, he also put in 25 years of work. I asked him if he knew my dad but he said he did not. "The Field", as he called it had "many, many workers, including women who also carried their share of duties on the job…
Let's hope politics will not be the deciding factor in this tanker dispute. Let's hope the Air Force will remain firm in its initial awarding of the contract to "us".
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at exam@frontiernet.net