Springfield State Journal

September 28, 2006

183rd's new mission still unknown

Air Guard's chief says many units in the same situation

WASHINGTON - The new chief of the Air National Guard admits he does not have much good news to offer such units as Springfield's 183rd Fighter Wing.

The 183rd, based at Abraham Lincoln Capitol Airport, is scheduled to lose its F-16 fighter jets because of action last year by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley said he does not know yet what new missions will be assigned to most of the Air Guard units that are in the 183rd's position.

All he can do now, McKinley said, is try to let the units keep their aircraft as long as possible.

But the BRAC law requires all action to be completed within six years of the approval of the commission's decisions on Sept. 9, 2005. And the Air Force is expected to make most of the aircraft moves early because many of the Guard's planes are old and becoming more expensive to operate.

The 183rd, which recently completed a combat tour in Iraq, will lose its 15 F-16 fighters to an Indiana Air National Guard unit in Fort Wayne, which will retire its current fighters.

The Illinois Air National Guard headquarters and the 217th Engineering Installation Squadron will remain at the Springfield airport, and a jet engine repair operation is to be moved in. The changes are expected to result in a net loss of 163 personnel, mostly civilian defense employees.

McKinley suggested that Springfield might pick up some emerging support duties, such as foreign military sales or monitoring air or space operations.

None of those steps would provide flying duties for the wing's pilots.

McKinley, who assumed his post this summer, clearly remains unhappy with the way the Air Guard was treated in last year's BRAC process.

"Why did the Air National Guard get handled so badly? I don't have a good answer to that," the general said during an appearance at the Air Force Association conference in Washington on Tuesday.

During the BRAC process, the adjutants general - the top Guard officers in each state - complained openly that the active Air Force leadership did not include them in the deliberations that led to the closure recommendations.

Several governors, including Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, filed lawsuits seeking to block the BRAC action. Most of those challenges were rejected in the federal courts. But one dealing with a multi-service Guard and Reserve base at Willow Grove, Pa., remains active

So far, all challenges to the BRAC law, which was drafted to pre-empt the legal and political obstacles that had prevented base closures for two decades, have been rejected by federal courts, including the Supreme Court.

McKinley concedes the 2005 BRAC is a done deal, but said he will do the best he can for the Air Guard personnel who are affected.