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Kelly A.F. Base closes its doors

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SAN ANTONIO — Kelly Air Force Base is losing its distinction as the oldest continuously operating Air Force base in the country.

The base that opened in 1916 when aviation was in its infancy planned to officially close its doors Friday, capping a gradual shutdown that began six years ago. Former Kelly workers and Texas leaders were scheduled to gather for a ceremony to mark the base's final day.

"Kelly has been an integral part of the community of San Antonio for the past 85 years," said Glen Whiton, former public affairs director at the base. "It has, of course, been a real emotional thing."

The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission voted to close Kelly in 1995, a decision that jolted San Antonio, where the historic, bustling base was the city's biggest employer.

It went from having more than 16,000 employees, both civilian and military, in the early 1990s to only 50 military personnel by the time of Friday's shutdown.

For thousands in the city's Hispanic community, the aircraft maintenance and management jobs at Kelly were welcome roads into America's middle class.

"It was not uncommon to find a three-generation family still employed at this base," Whiton said.

Many Kelly workers have transferred to other Air Force jobs around the country, including Utah's Hill Air Force Base, or found employment at one of the private companies occupying base buildings as the property has been converted into the aviation and business center known as KellyUSA.