August 11, 2005
States Opposing Plan to Shutter Air Guard Bases
By ERIC SCHMITT
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/11/politics/11bases.html (must subscribe
to NY Times to view original article)
WASHINGTON, Aug. 10 - A proposed overhaul of more than two dozen Air
National Guard units has emerged as the most contentious issue in the
Pentagon's larger plan to close, consolidate or realign hundreds of military
The Air Force wants to retire aging aircraft from many Guard units, close or
consolidate some of their bases and give some units new missions, like
flying remotely piloted Predator aircraft, that are better suited to today's
national security environment, Air Force officials say.
But doing that would leave more than two dozen states without emergency
aircraft to fight fires, recover from hurricanes and cope with other natural
disasters, lawmakers say.
Officials from New England to the Pacific Northwest argue that the plan
would leave them vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Illinois and Pennsylvania
have gone so far as to file suit in federal court contending that the
Defense Department cannot move Air Guard units without the consent of the
state governors, who share authority with the president over use of the
"These are the wrong recommendations, at the wrong time and for the wrong
reasons, and, on top of all that, they are illegal," said Gov. Rod R.
Blagojevich of Illinois, a Democrat, adding that the Pentagon's plan to
relocate an F-16 fighter unit in Springfield could imperil the safety of the
state's 11 nuclear power plants and 28 locks and dams.
Members of the independent commission who are preparing to begin their final
assessment of the Pentagon plan have publicly expressed alarm at the Air
National Guard recommendations. Lawyers on the commission have said the
governors may indeed have a sound legal argument, and, as a result, the
Justice Department has been called in to give its opinion.
"We have real questions with regard to some of the recommendations as they
apply to the Air National Guard," said Anthony J. Principi, a former
secretary of veterans affairs who heads the commission, which will hold a
hearing on Thursday on Capitol Hill on the issue.
Senior military officials, lawmakers and civilian military experts say the
Air Force has fumbled the politics in an obviously politically charged issue
by not collaborating more closely with one of the most politically connected
organizations in the country, the Air National Guard.
"I don't know why the Air Force chose to do it the way they did it," Lt.
Gen. H Steven Blum, an Army officer who is chief of the National Guard
Bureau, which oversees both the Army and Air National Guards, said last
month. "This was not an unpredictable situation."
Like its larger Army cousin, the Air National Guard plays a prominent role
in big cities and small towns alike, binding the nation's part-time military
to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as new domestic security
The Air Guard, with about 106,000 members, has units stationed at 24 Air
Force, Air Guard or Air Reserve bases, as well as at 63 civilian airports
across the country, said Jack Harrison, a National Guard Bureau spokesman.
Air National Guard units are responsible for flying air patrol missions over
the United States, but also have 3,110 personnel stationed in Iraq,
Afghanistan and elsewhere in Southwest Asia.
Under the Pentagon's plan, 29 of the Air Guard's 88 flying units would lose
their aircraft, Guard officials say, ranging from F-15 fighters to KC-135
refueling planes to C-130 cargo aircraft. Bases slated for closing include
Otis on Cape Cod, Willow Grove in Pennsylvania and Niagara Falls in New
York. In Connecticut, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, has expressed concern
over the proposal to move an A-10 attack plane squadron at Bradley
International Airport in Hartford to Massachusetts, but leave engine
maintenance and repair specialists behind.
Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, is seeking to stop the
deactivation of the 111th Fighter Wing based in Willow Grove. More than
1,000 people are assigned to the wing, Mr. Rendell said.
"I don't think that we should close this base in any way, shape or form," he
said. "There are important states' rights principles at stake here. There is
a shared supervisory role over the Air National Guard between the states and
the federal government. And I don't believe the government has the power to
Mr. Rendell said closing the base would infringe on his authority to deploy
Pennsylvania guard personnel and would strip the state's efforts to prevent
a terrorist attack and respond to natural disasters.
Air Force officials say the recommendations were based on careful analysis
of military value and are part of a broader effort to realign the Guard's
units and bases "into a smaller number of fully equipped squadrons to
increase operational effectiveness and efficiency," according to documents
submitted to the base-closing commission.
State adjutant generals say, however, that they were not directly consulted
in the deliberations about which units and bases would be realigned or
closed. These state Guard officials, with support from the commission, have
called for the Air Force and the Air Guard to negotiate some of the proposed
But that would set a politically dangerous precedent, many Pentagon
officials and independent military analysts say.
"Once you start cherry-picking bases, the integrity of the process comes
into question," said Christopher Hellman, an analyst at the Center for Arms
Control and Nonproliferation in Washington.
Gen. John P. Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, said the service followed
procedures properly, dealing with the National Guard Bureau. The Pentagon
will not reopen its proposed recommendations, General Jumper said, but is
willing to hasten discussions on new missions for bases that lose their
"We knew from the very beginning that not everyone would be happy," General
Jumper said in an interview. "But what we are attempting to do is bring the
National Guard along and keep them current in missions that are relevant to
the combatant commanders around the world. Those missions are increasingly
about space, about command and control, about unmanned air vehicles, about
information warfare, and about the things that are in demand out there, and
less and less about aging fighters and aging aircraft in general."
But lawmakers in many of the communities that would lose aircraft say that
could hurt domestic defense missions in those locales.
In Oregon, the plan calls for stripping the 142nd Fighter Wing of its 19
F-15 fighters and sending them to bases in New Jersey and Louisiana. Two
jets from an as yet undetermined base would be sent to Portland to be on
alert status. Otherwise, the nearest fighter base would be in Fresno,
Calif., 750 miles away, Air Guard officials say.
"It would leave the Pacific Northwest with a Little League air defense
capability," Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said at a commission
field hearing in June.
Consolidating Air Guard stations may be more efficient, but Air Guard
officials warn that the plan will cut the military's ties to many
communities and hurt the Guard's ability to retain high-caliber reservists.
Maj. Gen. Roger P. Lempke, an Air Force Academy graduate who is the Nebraska
adjutant general and president of the Adjutants General Association of the
United States, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that the
Pentagon's plan would "set us on a course that will result in a dramatic
decline in the Guard."