Spirits were high in this southwestern Idaho city following word that Mountain Home Air Force Base was spared from the Pentagon's chopping block.
Flags outside of Mountain Home businesses, along with posters declaring "We support our military," signaled the patriotism and hope for continued economic strength that fueled the community campaign to keep the base open.News Friday that the base would remain open pumped a second dose of adrenaline into residents who already were riding high from the U.S. victory in Operation Desert Storm.
"We're elated," said Steve Zatica, director of Paul's grocery store. "Patriotism in this town is very high, and it's all very exciting.
"I don't think we in Mountain Home could live without the base," Zatica said, since base personnel account for 40 percent of his store's business.
Mountain Home Air Force Base officials said they were glad to hear the news but declined to comment further.
"The only thing we can say is that Mountain Home is not on today's list of base closures and that's good news," said Capt. John Lahmon.
Col. Victor Andrews, base commander, was at a conference in Texas and was not available for comment.
Lahmon said the Pentagon requested that base officials not comment further on Friday's announcement by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, including specifics on when the EF-111 reconnaissance mission might end or a "composite wing" of F-15E, F-15C and F-16 fighter jets, E3 AWACS reconnaissance aircraft and air tankers would arrive.
All timetables would have to come from Cheney, Lahmon said.
Loss of the base would have dealt a devastating economic blow to the town's and the state's economy. The base is Idaho's second-largest employer, just behind the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory west of Idaho Falls.
K.R. Reinschmidt, owner of Performance Chevrolet, said closure of the base would have spelled disaster for his business. Eighty percent of his customers come from the base.
"When we were looking at the possibility of a base closure seven to eight months ago, I was looking at what would have meant the end to this business," he said. "It would be pretty hard for me to imagine operating without the military's presence here."
Now Reinschmidt is exploring the possibility of expanding his business and moving to a new Mountain Home facility. "That's something that wouldn't be happening" if the base closed, he said.
Reinschmidt said the statewide campaign to keep the military facility open has united many Idaho communities behind the air base.
"It has bonded a working relationship with other communities like Boise and Twin Falls with Mountain Home," he said. "This last eight-month cycle has created an opening of dialogue and a sharing of ideas."
Bruce Herbst, manager of the local Albertsons, also said support from other Idaho towns was instrumental in the decision to keep the base open.
"We expected the base to stay because of the support of all the people of Mountain Home and from surrounding communities," Herbst said. "We felt that all our efforts were not in vain and that the Pentagon would listen."
Meanwhile, state and local officials also reacted with joy, relief and optimism to Friday's announcement.
"Mountain Home Air Force Base has what I believe is a very bright future," Gov. Cecil Andrus said in a statement issued by his office.
"It is apparent that when all of the factors are weighted - the state-of-the-art training facilities, low cost of support services, community commitment, exceptional flying weather - the Air Force views its Idaho base as more than a keeper," Andrus said.
The governor, who was out of the state on vacation Friday, said the addition of a composite wing at the base hinges on his February proposal for a 150,000-acre addition to the Saylor Creek Bombing Range.
"We're very pleased about the announcement," Mountain Home Mayor Don Etter said. "We're just waiting to see what the realignment will be."
Etter said he expects the base to see a short-term decline - about 600 jobs will be lost in June when the EF-111 reconnaissance planes depart for Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico - but has high hopes for expansion in the near future.
"We're looking forward to the composite wing," he said.
State Sen. Claire Wetherell, D-Mountain Home, said, "I'm delighted. I think the Department of Defense made a very wise decision. We have so many attributes on the base and in the state."
House Minority Caucus Chairman Leanna Lasuen, D-Mountain Home, said that although few people believed the base would be closed, official word still was welcome.
"People were guardedly optimistic," Lasuen said. "It gave us all a sign of relief and made us all excited about where we may be headed."