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Down-sizing Westover is bad news for region and nation

Date: 5/1/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

The cuts of more than 300 positions at Westover Air Reserve Base have a very real impact on our local economy and are not good news for Hampden County. Granted that Brig. Gen. Steven Vautrain said he and his staff should be able to save many of the jobs of the affected reservists through not filling existing vacancies and re-training people, the bottom line is there will be less employment at the base.

With a history that began around World War II, most recently Westover has played a major role in getting people and supplies to the Middle East. It is one of the best strategically located air facilities in the nation and features one of the longest runways.

My dad was stationed twice at Westover and the base was an amazing place in its heyday. Its deactivation in my opinion was a huge mistake.

While Vautrain explained that the role of the Air Force is changing, which includes the number of aircraft in its inventory, he added that the automatic budget cuts due to the sequestration legislation are part of the reason behind the decrease.

I know that state and local elected officials, including Congressman Richard Neal, have worked to keep Westover intact.

One can argue how much of what we are going to see is due to the Air Force’s new mission and how much it’s due to the fact we don’t have a Congress that is capable of actually making decisions. Remember, members of the House and Senate were supposed to work together in figuring out how to lower the budget. They failed and now the American people are paying the price.

An open letter

Dear Editors at Yankee Magazine: I’ve read your publication since I was a kid as it was a staple in our household. I still like your magazine, but I want to know what you have against Hampden County.

You see, your May and June edition of Yankee Magazine’s Special Travel Guide has a “Best of New England – Editors’ Choice” section that breaks down these featured attractions and restaurants into regionals of the state. In your Western Massachusetts section you list 19 places to go, most of which are in Berkshire County, with several in Hampshire County.

Now I know Hampden County is more urban, more poor, more rough and ready than Lenox, Great Barrington or Northampton. Maybe you’re scared of the area. I would submit, though, we have attractions that are well worth the trip.

Put aside the obvious ones – the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the biannual airshow at Westover Air Reserve Base, the Big E, the Basketball Hall of Fame and Six Flags New England – and let me introduce you to some remarkable Cajun and Creole cooking at Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou in Springfield. If you’re looking for one of the best blues and barbeque places in the nation, Theodore’s is also in downtown Springfield.

For Italian cuisine that is truly exceptional go to Buon Appetito in Westfield. For the best french fries and political debate around, it’s City Jake’s in Main Street in Springfield.

Old World atmosphere? It’s The Fort in Springfield. Best pumpkin bread appetizer, it’s Collegian Court in Chicopee. Best place to play pool? It’s Smith’s Billiards, the longest operating pool hall in the country.

My colleague Chris Maza can tell you about the local beers of note and we have quite a few.

The Quadrangle is a great museum complex in Springfield and in Holyoke, Wistariahurst preserves how the 1 percent lived in the 19th century.

Your list divides Western Massachusetts into worthy and unworthy sections. Shame on you. If any of your editors actually want to get to know this area, my number is 413-525-3247, ext. 103. Have them give me a call, as I would be happy to show them around. I’ll even buy them a hot dog at Nick’s Nest in Holyoke.

You must be there

If you’re a news junkie, attending the Valley Press Club Roast is a requirement. Rub shoulders with elected officials! See the press openly make fun of them! See local politicians fire backs salvos of sarcasm and satire!

The annual event raises money for scholarships and costs just $20. Tickets are available at the door.

This year’s roast is May 9 at the John Boyle O’Reilly Club, 33 Progress Ave., in Springfield. Be there at 5:30 p.m. to catch all of the action.

Among those to be lampooned by the press this year include: Mayor Domenic Sarno, Mayor Richard Kos, Mayor Alex Morse, MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis, Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marie Angelides, Herbie Flores, and a cast of thousands.

Hope to see you there.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.