Springfield State Journal Register

May 14, 2005

City to lose F-16s
Pentagon proposal would cut 163 jobs

By DORI MEINERT and BRIAN MACKEY
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

Springfield's Air National Guard base would lose the 15 F-16 jets and 163 positions that make up the 183rd Fighter Wing under a realignment of military bases the Pentagon recommended Friday.

The base itself at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport would remain open, with the Illinois Air National Guard headquarters and the 217th Engineering Installation Squadron remaining there.

The operations of the 183rd would be moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., where recruitment is better, the Pentagon said. The Springfield base would lose 133 civilian positions and 30 military positions.

Elected officials at all levels of government expressed dismay, but vowed to intensify their efforts to retain the jobs and equipment.

"They've pretty much neutered the base," complained Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, whose district includes part of Springfield.

LaHood said the 183rd shouldn't be moved, because "it's provided a very strong capability when the president decides to invade a country."

Overall, Illinois would lose almost 2,700 military and civilian jobs, including 1,263 at the Rock Island Arsenal, under the Pentagon's plan.

But there were winners in the state, too. Peoria's Air National Guard base and Scott Air Force Base near Belleville each would gain jobs if an independent base-closing commission accepts the Pentagon's recommendations.

The greatest potential job loss in Illinois could come from Great Lakes Naval Training Center, which would lose 2,022 positions. That was the biggest surprise to Illinois lawmakers, who didn't consider it vulnerable because it's the Navy's only recruit-training station.

The closure list had been the subject of concern, speculation and lobbying for months. Illinois lawmakers had a mixed reaction after the list was revealed.

"I think we've done everything we could do legally and politically to help out. It could have been worse. But we're still going to fight.

For Rock Island and Springfield,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a telephone interview as he traveled around the state appearing at the affected communities with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

They vowed to fight to protect the job shifts they said would cause major economic losses to the communities of Springfield, Rock Island and North Chicago.

“The battle isn’t over yet because we think there is even more that the arsenal, and the thousands and thousands of hard-working men and women who come to work there every day, can do to keep American and our troops safe,” Blagojevich said during a stop in Moline.

Nationwide, the Pentagon proposed closing 33 major facilities and realigning 29 more. More than 100 smaller facilities also would be affected. The closings and realignments would save $48.8 billion over 20 years while preparing the military for future threats.

The independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission has until Sept. 8 to hold hearings and visit bases proposed for closure before presenting its own list. In a process designed to take the politics out of the decision-making, President Bush and Congress must accept or reject the list in its entirety.

The nine-member commission includes one Illinois native, Sam Skinner, who was chief of staff and transportation secretary under President George H. W. Bush, the current president’s father.

Springfield and Peoria community leaders had gotten together to hire a Washington-area consulting firm to help them make their case. The mayors of the two communities visited a Pentagon official in December, and Blagojevich made several trips to Capitol Hill to argue on behalf of all Illinois bases.

Peoria’s 182nd Airlift Wing at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport was in a stronger position during the Pentagon’s review because of the new C-130 tactical transport planes it received just two months ago, LaHood said.

While the entire base has been upgraded in the past year, LaHood said, “I think what put us over the top, in my opinion, was the upgraded planes.”

Peoria would gain 14 military and 21 civilian jobs if four C-130H aircraft are moved from Nashville (Tenn.) International Airport to the base, as the Pentagon proposes.

The Rock Island Arsenal would lose 1,263 of its more than 6,400 employees under the Pentagon plan. About 740 jobs would be shifted to Ohio and Michigan.

“Losing 1,300 jobs in western Illinois is painful,” Durbin said.

Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, who is the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, criticized the proposed hit on the arsenal and vowed to challenge it.

“I will ask the Army for access to all of the data and information that went into making this decision so we can analyze its accuracy and challenge any errors,” Evans said.

He also said he would join in the battle to save the 183rd in Springfield and will use his position on the House Armed Services Committee to clarify a law that may allow governors to control National Guard installations.

At Great Lakes, a medical training center for enlisted personnel could be shifted to Texas. The hospital at Great Lakes would be converted into an outpatient surgery clinic, and the facility would lose three dental research centers.

The mood was more celebratory at Scott Air Force Base, which stands to gain 797 military and civilian jobs. The base employs about 14,000 and contributes more than $1.6 billion to the southwestern Illinois economy.

But Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who represents part of Springfield, said the celebration was “bittersweet” because of the negative impact on other communities.

The Armed Forces Reserve Center in Carbondale and Navy Reserve Center in Forest Park are targeted for closure with a total loss of 47 jobs.

Earlier this week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan threatened to sue the federal government if the final base-closing list contained the Springfield or Peoria Guard units. On Friday, her office sounded a more cautious note, saying it was “assessing the impact” of the proposed realignment at Springfield.

Madigan said Wednesday that federal law requires the Defense Department to get a governor’s permission before closing a National Guard installation in that executive’s state. Blagojevich and members of the Illinois congressional delegation had raised the same argument earlier.But the Pentagon disputes that. The Pentagon targeted more than 200 Army Guard units and half a dozen Air Guard stations around the country.

Copley News Service correspondents Mike Ramsey in Chicago and Otto Kreisher in Washington contributed to this report.