By Jennifer McGraw

SOLANO COUNTY (CBS13) – With a grand celebration featuring a C-17, dignitaries, and airmen, Travis Air Force Base celebrated 75 years of what’s been so vital to the community and our nation.

“For Fairfield to be the home to Travis Air Force Base is really special,” said Mayor Harry Price Thursday afternoon.

The airfield originally opened during the height of World War II and predates the Air Force itself. Now it’s the largest military cargo operation in the country.

“Travis used to be known as the gateway to the Pacific; I believe we’ve outgrown that. Our mission is now global,” said Col. John Klein, commander of Travis AFB.

But there is now some concern about Travis’ role in that global mission.

The fleet of KC-10 air refueling tankers are now more than 30 years old and are being phased out by the Air Force.

Travis is one of four Western airbases competing to become the hub for the next generation of refueling jets.

Community leaders say landing the new KC-46 is key to the base’s future.

“Losing either one of those or both of those would be disastrous, and that’s why we are determined to get those KC-46s,” said Price.

“We do need it, the country needs it, and it’s an ideal location,” Klein added.

Travis Air Force Base is the largest employer in Solano County with an economic impact of $1.6 billion annually.

“We could not do that without the enduring support of the community and our local area,” Klein said.

Solano County leaders have enacted rules to stop new development from encroaching on the airport’s future flight operations.

“Protecting Travis and keeping Travis alive is very, very important,” Price said.

Equally crucial is the support that the air base provides during disasters.

“The humanitarian aspect of airlift is just touching to me, it’s vital, it’s important,” said Rick Shea, Curator of the Heritage Center of the base and veteran.

They’re hoping the spirit of Travis lives on for decades to come.

There’s no confirmed date on when the decision will be made to bring in new tankers and where they will call home.

Some notable events to mention throughout the 75 years:

  • During operation homecoming Travis Air Force base was the first place Vietnam War prisoners touched down to be reunited with their families.
  • During the Cold War, it served as a strategic bomber base.
  • Travis helped repatriate Americans during the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991.
  • It’s the home of the David Grant Medical Center, which is the largest hospital in continental U.S.
  • Travis AFB is named after Brigadier General Robert Travis who died in a plane crash after taking off from the base in 1951.
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