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Air National Guard general slams Selfridge cuts

by Candice Miller on February 22, 2012

By Norb Franz
Macomb Daily
Head of Michigan Air National Guard says ANG airmen more efficient than active duty Air Force
The head of the Michigan Air National Guard publicly went on the attack Friday in criticizing the Pentagon’s decision to eliminate Selfridge Air National Guard Base’s A-10 squadron, a move that would result in the loss of more than 650 jobs.
In a strongly worded presentation before reporters, a handful of local government officials and approximately 300 military personnel, Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais bluntly charged that the Defense Department’s plan makes no economic sense.
Vadnais said he and other adjutant generals of states’ Army and Air National Guard units spent recent days in the nation’s capital, trying to convince members of Congress that the Guard operates effectively and more efficiently than the Air Force. He said nobody has shown him anything on paper that attempts to justify the cuts impacting Selfridge and the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base.
“Where’s the business case to execute this plan?” Vadnais wondered.
The Air Force plan calls for the elimination of all 24 A-10 Thunderbolt fighter jets at Selfridge. In exchange, the current complement of eight KC-135 tanker planes at Selfridge would be increased by four of the giant mid-air refuelers, bringing with them about 100 jobs.
The Harrison Township base would suffer a net loss of 557 jobs. Vadnais said the economic blow to the region would be approximately $50 million.
President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget calls for $525 billion for the Defense Department, plus $87 billon in overseas military contingencies. Approximately $9.7 billion is earmarked for the Air National Guard — a $330 million reduction from the current year. As proposed, Selfridge will “bear the brunt with respect to the nation,” Vadnais said.
“It is a big sacrifice,” said the adjutant general, who also serves as director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
“There’s been a lot of heated discussion over this.”
The Pentagon wants to make cuts that cumulatively would save $487 billion over the next 10 years. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hopes to retire 286 aircraft over the next five years, including 227 in the next fiscal year.
Vadnais noted he’s not attempting to criticize active service personnel and operations, but argued that the Air National Guard is more efficient and much less expensive than the Air Force, with one-third of the comparative personnel costs and 90 percent less in retirement benefit costs.
“This is not us against them. It really isn’t. It’s about what’s right for America,” the major general said.
He said the nation’s military operation should return to primarily being a militia of guardsmen and reservists.
“I think we’ve proven beyond a shadow of a doubt we can do it,” he said.
The A-10 Thunderbolts have overwhelming support as the favorite among ground forces for its close-air support.
“There is no platform that goes in the air and can support a ground command like the A-10. Nothing,” said Vadnais.
For several years, Air Force brass has favored retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolts.
Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a recent interview with the Military Times acknowledged the extreme effectiveness of the A-10’s “tank killer” capability. But Air Force top brass for years has favored the retirement of the A-10, and hope to replace it with the upcoming F-35 fighter jet because it is adept at mid-air combat while also delivering bombs to help ground troops from a relatively high altitude.
In his presentation Friday, watched by hundreds from the 127th Wing at Selfridge, Vadnais showed statistics with Michigan ranking at or near the bottom per capita in terms of Air Force/Army bases, Defense Department employees and payroll, and numbers of guardsmen and reservists. Despite Michigan being among the states hardest hit by the recession, Vadnais encouraged Selfridge personnel to contact and urge members of Michigan’s congressional delegation to oppose the cutbacks targeting Selfridge, but from a national economic perspective instead of pleading the state’s economic woes.
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller said last week she would fight cutbacks planned at Selfridge. She said when she and fellow Republican Rep. Tim Walberg of Tipton met with Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, they were told the cutbacks are final.
Only a congressional decision to alter Obama’s budget plan could change that.
Vadnais said he won’t rest in trying to convince the Defense Department that any numbers it may have don’t add up.
“I intend on fighting and winning this. We are not going to roll over,” he said.
“It’s not a done deal. It absolutely is not a done deal.”
The cutbacks next go to the Senate and House armed services committees, before moving on to the respective appropriations committees. Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin chairs the Senate Armed Service Committee.
“I think we better tell him to support us back here in Michigan,” Chesterfield Township Supervisor Michael Lovelock said.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel was convinced by Vadnais’ numbers to spare the A-10 squadron from defense cuts.
“It’s impressive, from a business perspective, how this makes sense,” he said.
Asked afterward about his confidence that the local A-10 squadron and its jobs can be saved, he told reporters: “I hope Congress has the courage and fortitude to take us where it needs to go.”
The A-10s were brought to Selfridge in 2009, replacing the F-16. The squadron became “mission qualified” in June 2011. It was deployed to Afghanistan last September 2011 and returned last month.

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