San Diego Union Tribune

May 20, 2005

Fight to keep F-16s here continues
Members of Congress write to commission on base realignment


WASHINGTON - Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama and three Springfield-area House members on Thursday urged the Base Realignment and Closure Commission not to move the F-16 fighter jets from Springfield's Air National Guard Base.

Also Thursday, the commission announced it has scheduled a regional hearing in St. Louis on June 7 to allow community leaders and lawmakers from Illinois and nearby states to counter the Pentagon's recommended base closings and realignment.

Supporters of the Springfield base will be there, Durbin said.

"We are troubled by the Department of Defense decision to recommend removing the F-16 fighter aircraft of the 183rd Fighter Wing from the Air National Guard base at Capital Airport in Springfield, Illinois," the lawmakers wrote in the letter to the base closing commission.

It was signed by Illinois' two Democratic senators and Reps. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who each represent part of Springfield.

The letter cites four reasons why the commission should reject the Pentagon's proposal to shift the 15 F-16 fighter jets now in Springfield to Fort Wayne, Ind.

"First, violating its own stated criteria, the department recommends moving the aircraft to an installation that has a lower military value," the lawmakers wrote.

The Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport has a military value of 115 compared to the lower rating of 130 given to the proposed relocation site in Fort Wayne. Military value, based on current and future mission requirements and on operational readiness, was to be the primary factor in BRAC decisions, they argued.

"Military value is not a peripheral question in the BRAC process; it is the central criterion to which all others are supposed to be subordinate. Anything less would violate the trust of the men and women putting themselves in harm's way every day in the service of their country," they wrote.

The lawmakers also stated that the Pentagon�s main rationale for the move - Fort Wayne�s strong recruiting record - is irrelevant.

�Recruiting for the Air National Guard in the Springfield area has been strong. The 183rd Fighter Wing is presently at 100 percent strength in aircrews and 97.5 percent overall,� the lawmakers wrote.

In addition, they argued that the move �will likely further diminish military capability because the skills amassed by the people flying and maintaining the F-16 through years of experience will be lost. As part-time warriors with full-time civilian jobs, the affected Air National Guard members do not move with the aircraft but remain in place,� they wrote.

Finally, the lawmakers reiterated their argument that the governor�s consent is required for a Guard base to be closed, a point that Pentagon officials dispute.

Durbin on Thursday also sent personal notes requesting a meeting with two commissioners, Samuel Skinner of Illinois and former Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah. On Monday, Durbin and Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin met with another commissioner, former Rep. James Bilbray, D-Nev.