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Michigan service members fear job loss with changes at bases

by Candice Miller on February 6, 2012

By Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki and Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press
http://www.freep.com/article/20120204/NEWS06/202040344/Michigan-service-members-fear-job-loss-with-changes-at-bases
Operational changes at two Michigan Air National Guard bases announced Friday by the U.S. Air Force are raising concerns among service members in the state that more jobs could be lost as Michigan struggles through a recession rebound.
 
But the news out of Washington wasn’t all bad. Along with announced cuts, some key equipment will be added at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township and Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. The net effect — particularly, how much personnel is retained — likely won’t be known until final decisions in March.
 
And that’s what has some service members nervous. Many, but possibly not all, will switch over to the new aircraft. There are 650 air national guardsmen affiliated with Selfridge’s current A10 fighter jets. And the 110th Airlift Wing out of Battle Creek has 1,200 air national guardsmen.
 
“Changes of this magnitude tend to have a trickle-down effect, making every service member in Michigan — where unemployment numbers are already high — very nervous,” said Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard. Vadnais said he is working to ensure positions for all of the affected personnel.
 
The 127th Wing out of Selfridge will lose all 24 of its A10 Warthog fighter jets. However, the base will gain four of the big KC135 air refueling planes.
 
And the 110th Airlift Wing will lose all four of its C21 twin-engine aircraft. But it will gain an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operation. The drones are launched near their strike zone but are flown remotely by pilots sitting behind desks in other parts of the globe.
 
Both the air refueling and drone aircraft are seen as key to the Air Force’s plan for the future, which emphasizes long-range strike missions.
 
The changes are part of the $8.7 billion in cuts the Air Force plans to make over the next five years, eliminating nearly 10,000 positions — including 3,900 active duty, 5,100 Guard and 900 other positions.
 
The larger number of guard positions prompted an outraged response from the National Guard Association of the United States, which, even after assurances Friday from the Air Force, said the moves raise questions about whether the active branch sees the Guard as a true partner.
 
“Despite claims last week that reductions to Air Force aircraft and personnel would be ‘balanced’ across the active component, the National Guard and the Reserves, the Air National Guard is apparently taking the bulk of the cuts,” retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., the group’s president, said in a statement.
 
Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, was quizzed in particular about losing the A10s during a Pentagon news conference Friday.
 
The small and agile planes are popular with the Army and Marine ground troops they support during combat. Selfridge’s A10s returned three weeks ago from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan. But Schwartz said the smaller Air Force needs planes with multiple purposes, something that doesn’t describe the A10s.
 
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a Harrison Township Republican, said losing the A10s leaves Selfridge with just one aircraft, and therefore more vulnerable if there are future base closures.
 
“I am interested in hearing more from the Air Force to justify these decisions,” Miller said.
 
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he would work with the Air Force “to ensure that our bases retain the critical personnel they need.”
 
Levin said both bases will retain “vital flying missions.” The addition of the drone unit in Battle Creek, especially, puts a Michigan base “at the cutting edge of … a critically important and fast-growing part of our defense strategy,” he said.
 
Any budget proposal made by the Department of Defense still needs to go through the appropriations process and could be changed.

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