Committee stops loss of planes, jobs
By IAN GALLAGHER | The South End
The airmen of Selfridge Air National Guard base in Harrison Township, Mich., finally have a chance to breathe easy. On May 10, the House Armed Services Committee approved a measure that would postpone all the proposed changes to aircraft used by the Air National Guard for one year.
The SANG base was slated for cuts by the Air Force and was at risk of losing its squadron of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, one of the most feared jets over the skies of Afghanistan. The one year reprieve, however, may only postpone the inevitable.
“This House has taken steps to stop the devastation of our Air National Guard and now is taking steps to stop the devastation of our defense base and needless loss of jobs with common sense thinking,” Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, which includes Selfridge, said at the committee hearing. Her husband once served as commander of the base.
If Selfridge loses the A-10s, then 600-700 positions, including 200 full-time positions, will go with them. This would mean the deactivation of the 107th Fighter Squadron, a component of the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard. The Air Force is looking to retire 102 of 300 A-10s and increase the operational lifespan of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Rather than just retiring the Thunderbolt IIs, the original proposal to keep the jobs at the base involved adding four additional KC-135 Stratotankers, which would only involve adding or retaining 70 positions.
Another proposal, rejected by the Air Force, was to return F-16s to Selfridge, which would keep around 500 positions. There have also been talks to move eight C-130s, a cargo transport, and about 300 accompanying positions to the base.
“The erosion the Air National Guard is a domino effect,” 127th Wing Commander Col. Mike Thomas said. “Now, if you pull A-10s out as far as a flying mission, a single mission(with the KC-135s) doesn’t do justice compared to the capabilities (Selfridge) has to offer.”
When it comes to the costs of operating an Air National Guard unit, the government gets 30 percent of the capability for 6 percent of the budget compared to a regular Air Force unit “and we’re proven,” Thomas said.
It costs $25 million to run operations and maintenance to keep the 127th going, and the cost of active duty personnel would be at least $50 million.
The deactivated Air National Guard airmen would likely move into civilian life rather than move to a new location, which would result in a loss of combat capability that could not be readily replaced as it takes years to train pilots and mechanics.
Approximately 3,000 personnel from all four military branches and the Department of Homeland Security work on the base full time, and another 3,000 are guard or reserve personnel.
Only one-third of the 127th Wing is full time. The 127th Win consists of 171st Air Refueling Squadron flying KC-135 Stratotankers and the 107th Fighter Squadron flying A-10s. Selfridge is the second oldest active military airfield in the nation; it opened in 1917.
Selfridge by the numbers:
9,000 ft. runway, capable of handling Air Force One
3,000 full-time personnel
3,000 guard or reserve personnel
600-700 positions at risk with A-10s
95 years of operation
1-year freeze on aircraft changes in the Air National Guard
127th Wing, Michigan Air National Guard
The 171st Air Refueling Squadron operates KC-130 Stratotankers, an in-air refueling aircraft, based at Selfridge. Their three-man crews fly all over the world, at any given time at least one crew from the 171st is operating in the Central Command Area, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. The 171st was also a part of the operation to remove Muammar Kaddafi from power in Libya last year.
The 107th Fighter squadron operates A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, an air-to-ground strike fighter. The big attack aircraft was actually built around the gigantic, seven-barrel Gatling guns that stick out of their noses. Originally designed as a “tank killer” in the 1970s, the A-10 has become the aircraft that soldiers and marines want to see overhead. This is one plane that “really can put fear in the opposing force,” according to TSgt. Dan Heaton.