Canton Repository

June 17, 2005

Senators seek hearing on Air National Guard cuts

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — In an effort to ward off painful losses of military facilities in their states, a bipartisan group of 23 senators has written to the base realignment and closure commission chairman asking for a hearing into the Pentagon’s plans to eliminate or move nearly two dozen Air National Guard units.

Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, both D-Ill., and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, joined in that call and a similar request to Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner, R-Va., to hold a separate hearing.

The senators expressed concern that the plans to take the flying units from 23 Air Guard stations in more than a dozen states would leave those states’ National Guard without a rapid deployment capability and would hurt guard recruitment, which already is struggling to meet monthly goals.

They also complained that the plans to consolidate the Air Guard flying units have not been thoroughly examined and the adverse consequences considered, particularly the impact on homeland security.

The Air Force has said it needs to reduce the size of its Air Guard and Air Force Reserve and to consolidate flying units into fewer but larger organizations that would be more efficient and effective. Air Force leaders also have said they will find new missions for units that are losing their flying jobs.

In the letter to BRAC commission chairman Anthony Principi, the senators said they understood that the Air Force planned to turn the 23 Air Guard bases into “enclaves” with “expeditionary combat support units,” instead of flying squadrons.

“It is not clear that an enclave base can sustain expeditionary combat units,” because without flying units many enclaves “will no longer be able to support military or civilian aircraft operations.”

At other locations, the loss of Guard firefighters could mean that the civilian airports the guard units now share would lose FAA ratings and no longer meet Air Force and civilian criteria for landings.

In addition, the senators said, “it is not at all clear that expeditionary combat support personnel will stay in units that do not have aircraft,” making recruiting and retention more difficult.

The senators also alleged that the plan to remove flying units and leave enclaves “is an effort to get around the BRAC process” by producing Guard locations that could not be sustained and would vanish over a number of years.

“Last, we are concerned that enclaves simply will not meet the homeland security needs of governors,” the senators told Principi, urging him to hold a full commission hearing on the Air Guard issue.

The letter to Warner was nearly identical and also requested a committee hearing.

Dated Wednesday, the letters had not been received by either Principi or Warner and their offices had no immediate comment.

In Ohio, two Air National Guard facilities would lose their flying units and hundreds of guard and civilian positions while one facility would gain.

At the Mansfield airport, the 179th Airlift Wing would lose its C-130 transports and 234 military and civilian positions, while at the Springfield airport, the 178th Fighter Wing’s F-16 fighters and 291 personnel would be transferred out.

But the 180th Fighter Wing at Toledo airport would gain 126 personnel.