WASHINGTON — Offutt Air Force Base has been officially selected to host a new military lab charged with the solemn duty of identifying the remains of long-lost American soldiers.
The World-Herald reported in March that the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command had tapped Offutt as the preferred site for its new satellite lab, subject to final Air Force approval.
U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., announced Friday that the Air Force had given its approval.
“The work that JPAC has done and continues to do — helping American families and friends gain closure with their missing loved servicemen — is truly wonderful,” Nelson said. “I am proud that Nebraska will soon do its part in facilitating this commendable mission.”
Existing facilities at Offutt, and the nearby presence of Creighton University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, helped the base's bid for the new lab, Nelson said.
Friday's announcement comes after years that saw Offutt come close to landing an Air Force nuclear weapons command and a cyberwarfare unit. In both cases, however, Offutt ultimately lost out.
“We were bridesmaids on some other important missions, (but) we won this one and we won it on the merits,” said Lee Terry, R-Neb., who represents Nebraska's Omaha-centered 2nd Congressional District and serves as the base's congressman until redistricting takes effect.
The central lab, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, is expected to transfer about 50 scientists and researchers to the Bellevue base, along with a number of support staff.
Terry said geography played a key role in Offutt's selection. Military leaders had told Nelson they realized after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that they needed a facility in the continental United States.
Nebraska also will be an easier trip for relatives looking for closure than Hawaii.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who will represent the base after the redistricting, said the important new mission will require a “high level of expertise and sensitivity.”
Having yet another key mission can help stave off closure or downsizing of the base, which is an economic driver for the region. Offutt-based U.S. Strategic Command also is getting a new headquarters.
Terry said it’s an honor for the base to host such a mission and it will mean more people visiting the community.
“When you want the base to be even more important than it is today, then this is a great addition,” he said.
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