An A-10 Thunderbolt II peels away from formation as they arrive at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., on Wednesday, March 22, 2006 as they prepare to take part in Hawgsmoke 2006. The world-wide competition, so called because the A-10's nickname is Warthog, involves nearly 80 pilots and aircraft to determine a top gun.

Arizona Daily Star/File, 2006

A group of civic and business leaders launched a new effort today to boost support for Southern Arizona military installations, with the release of a survey showing strong community backing of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and other bases in the region.

In a survey released by the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, nearly 92 percent of residents surveyed said they support the presence of such bases very strongly, strongly or moderately, with nearly 49 percent expressing "very strong” support.

The Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, which includes community and civic leaders, business organizations, and military-support groups such as the D-M 50, used the survey findings to launch its new “Mission Strong,” awareness program at an event Wednesday at the UNS Energy Corp. headquarters.

Ron Shoopman, a retired Air Force brigadier general and president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, said the survey findings and the Mission Strong initiative will be used both to raise awareness among the public, and to reassure Pentagon officials that the Southern Arizona community welcomes and values the regional bases.

Shoopman said the military installations — besides D-M including Fort Huachuca, the Air National Guard 162nd Fighter Wing and the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma — support some 62,000 jobs and pump $5.4 billion annually into the region’s economy.

The survey comes as the Pentagon is looking to axe one of D-M’s primary missions by eliminating the A-10 Thunderbolt II close air-support jet for budget savings, and controversy grows over the deployment of the nation’s next-generation fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II.

“Budget cuts are forcing major reductions in all branches of the military,” said Shoopman, former commander of the 162nd Fighter Wing. “Only the most productive, efficient, well-supported installations will survive.”

The survey showed that 48.6 percent of respondents expressed “very strong support,” 26.7 percent signaling “strong support” and 16.3 percent said they “moderately support” military installations in the region. The rest indicated “little support” for the military bases (5.8 percent) or that they do not support then at all (2.5 percent).

The poll, conducted in November by Tucson-based Strongpoint Marketing, included 617 respondents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Read more tomorrow on Starnet and in the Arizona Daily Star