Peoria Journal Star

February 10, 2006

Peoria Guard units threatened by cuts
Blagojevich opposes move in letter to president

OF Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday urged President Bush to oppose a Pentagon plan that could cut up to 1,000 Illinois National Guard positions, about half of those in the Peoria area.

"Our task of keeping people safe in Illinois becomes immensely more difficult in the face of federal efforts to weaken our Illinois National Guard," Blagojevich wrote in a letter to Bush.

The Peoria-area units that could be affected include:

- Company F of the 106th Aviation Battalion, based at Greater Peoria Regional Airport, has about 75 members. The Chinook helicopter company recently served in Iraq.

- The Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Facility, also part of the 106th Aviation Battalion, has about 300 Guard members.

- Bartonville's Company B and Detachment 2, which provide security for the 35th Infantry Division based in Kansas. It has about 160 soldiers.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, said Thursday his office hasn't been informed of the proposed cuts.

The Pentagon has ordered the Illinois National Guard to prepare plans to eliminate as many as 1,000 positions, which is 10 percent of the state's 9,600 Guard positions.

"We don't support any proposed cuts to our force structure," said Illinois National Guard spokesman Col. Tim Franklin, who confirmed the potential threat to the Peoria-area units.

While some of the eliminated positions could eventually be replaced by new ones, it is uncertain how many and when that might happen, Major Gen. Randal Thomas, adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, said after meeting with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Wednesday.

Thomas had told reporters Wednesday that a chemical brigade headquartered near Rockford also might be eliminated. However, Franklin said Thursday that unit currently is in Chicago and slated to move to the Rockford area. It's the 404th Chemical Brigade with 75 soldiers. Other units are the Chicago-based 44th Rear Area Operations Center, with about 45 soldiers, and a proposed new chemical company near Shiloh that would have had about 150 soldiers. Other threatened units haven't yet been identified, Franklin said.

The proposed Defense Department budget would fund 333,000 National Guard members nationally, the number currently serving, instead of the 350,000 authorized. But Army officials promised last week to fund more if the Guard can recruit more. In addition, the Pentagon plans to consolidate the Guard combat brigades from 34 to 28.

Appearing before congressional committees this week, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's top officer, insisted the Pentagon isn't reducing the numbers of Guard and Reserve forces. He said the changes are aimed at making them "more useful."