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Tucson community members launch F-35 support project

U.S. Senator John McCain talks with members of the 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman Committee about his support for Tucson as a candidate for the Air Force’s new F-35 Lightning II, Nov. 24, 2009. Last week the committee launched the F-35 support project, Tucson Lightning. Southern Arizonans may now register their support for Tucson on the Tucson Lightning Web site, TucsonF35.com. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Senator John McCain talks with members of the 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman Committee about his support for Tucson as a candidate for the Air Force’s new F-35 Lightning II, Nov. 24, 2009. Last week the committee launched the F-35 support project, Tucson Lightning. Southern Arizonans may now register their support for Tucson on the Tucson Lightning Web site, TucsonF35.com. (Courtesy photo)

Tim Amalong, 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman Committee president, discusses the Tucson Lightning campaign with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer at the Tucson Convention Center Jan. 12. From the Tucson Lightning Web site, Tucsonf35.com, visitors can view letters of support from the governor, as well as from other government and business leaders. (Courtesy photo)

Tim Amalong, 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman Committee president, discusses the Tucson Lightning campaign with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer at the Tucson Convention Center Jan. 12. From the Tucson Lightning Web site, Tucsonf35.com, visitors can view letters of support from the governor, as well as from other government and business leaders. (Courtesy photo)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman Committee, a group of Southern Arizona business and community leaders dedicated to sustaining the mission of the Arizona Air National Guard at Tucson International Airport, launched an F-35 Lightning II public support campaign, Jan. 22.

The project titled Tucson Lightning is intended to give Southern Arizonans a vehicle to voice their support for the proposed F-35 Lightning II training mission for the 162nd Fighter Wing at the airport.

"We feel that the majority of people in Southern Arizona recognize the economic benefits of basing this new aircraft in Tucson," said Tim Amalong, committee president. "The Minutemen simply want to consolidate local support for the F-35 to show decision makers in Washington D.C. that we welcome the Air Force's newest aircraft."

Last October, the Air Force announced Tucson's initial selection as a possible home for the F-35 for its exceptional flying weather and access to vast training ranges.

The 162nd Fighter Wing, currently the largest Air National Guard F-16 training base in the country, has been teaching U.S. and international pilots to fly the multipurpose fighter since 1985. As such, it is one of the top five candidates Air Force-wide for F-35 training.

Throughout 2010, the Air Force will conduct an environmental impact study. Senior leaders will then analyze the data and several other factors before making final decisions about F-35 basing in early 2011.

"We know that public support is one of many factors that the Air Force is considering, so it's important to ensure that people who want to support their military have a way to do just that," said Amalong.

As a focal point for Tucson Lightning, the committee stood up TucsonF35.com, a new Web site where residents can register their support for the city as a potential home for the F-35 mission. Additionally, the site provides information about the aircraft, the 162nd Fighter Wing, answers to frequently asked questions, and more.

In conjunction with the Web site, residents will learn about Tucson Lightning through a variety of ways - a speaker's bureau, presentations to business and civic organizations, advertising, and email "blasts" to registered supporters.

The campaign is a statewide initiative as Arizona's military industry represents one of the largest industries in the state and annually generates more than $9 billion in positive economic impact. The 162nd Fighter Wing alone currently employs approximately 1,500 Tucsonans. As the 39th largest employer in Southern Arizona its economic impact is about $280 million annually.

"In these challenging economic times we must do all we can to keep our state's largest economic generators in tact," said Amalong.

The 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman Committee, established in 1993, is comprised of about 120 members who work to advocate current and future missions of the 162nd Fighter Wing.

In the mid 1990s the group helped preserve the wing's international training mission. Air Force leadership at the time suggested that all international training be done by active duty units. The Minutemen successfully advocated the continuation of the training mission in Tucson citing the benefits that the city and the wing offers student pilots.

According to Amalong, the wing's mission has flourished through the years and has trained capable warfighting partners for the United States from 24 different nations that fly the F-16 today.

"This effort is the least we can do for our servicemen and women. They sacrifice so much for us every day. They deserve the best training and equipment to continue their important work to keep us safe and secure," he said.

The committee also supports Arizona's military community through fund raisers.
They sponsor a golf tournament annually, and, through funds raised at the event, have donated more than $60,000 to "Wright Flight" to assist them in their work with school children in the area. Proceeds from tournaments also fund several non-profit organizations that work to better the community and assist servicemembers such as the Jimmy Jet Foundation, Project Challenge, the 162nd Fighter Wing Family Readiness Group, and Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve to name a few.