Closing the Air National Guard Base at PDX - YES!
write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you agree with me that this base should be closed. Portland is about peace, not fighter jets. Join me.
link to www.oregonlive.com
Base vital to region's defenses, panel told
Oregon officials appear to score points, saying loss of Portland's Air Guard unit wouldn't save money and would leave the area too vulnerable
Saturday, June 18, 2005
The Pentagon's plan to move an Oregon Air National Guard fighter jet squadron out of Portland would tear a dangerous hole in the nation's antiterrorism network and put millions of Pacific Northwest residents at risk, Oregon's governor and congressional representatives warned a federal panel Friday.
Not only that, they said, the move wouldn't save taxpayers any money, which was one of the main reasons the Pentagon gave in proposing the move.
"It looks like we're tacking up a vacancy sign on our air base and putting out a welcome mat for our enemies," Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said during a four-hour hearing in Portland before the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
The comments were part of a political full-court press to save the jet squadron and the hundreds of jobs attached to it.
After the hearing, commission Chairman Anthony Principi suggested the elected officials may have scored some points.
"We have real questions with regard to some of the recommendations as they apply to the Air National Guard," Principi said.
As part of a sweeping military streamlining proposal by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Portland-based 142nd Fighter Wing would lose its 18 F-15 fighter jets to bases in New Jersey and Louisiana. Eight KC-135 refueling jets, also based in Portland, would be split between bases in Oklahoma and Kansas.
The Portland base would lose 452 civilian and 112 military employees. It also stands to lose about 1,200 part-time Guard airmen and reservists, who would report to other units.
The idea is to reduce the number of smaller air bases scattered around the country while beefing up the capabilities at bigger bases. Rumsfeld also wants a more seamless tie between the Air Guard and the active duty Air Force.
His plan calls for stationing two Air Force jets in Portland on "alert" status, which means they could be scrambled in the event of an emergency. That's not enough to defend the Northwest's population centers, power dams, nuclear waste storage sites and other targets, Smith and others said at the hearing.
"Stripping the Pacific Northwest of this vital defense capability will leave Oregon and the rest of the Pacific Northwest dangerously vulnerable to air-based threats," Gov. Ted Kulongoski told the commission. "We simply won't have the tools we need to defend this region."
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., added, "It would leave the Pacific Northwest with a Little League air defense capability."
Oregon also has a squadron of F-15 jets at an Air Guard base in Klamath Falls, but those are used for training.
The commission's role
The commission can add or subtract military bases from Rumsfeld's recommended list of closures. It is holding a series of hearings and visiting military bases around the country before giving its final recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8.
Bush then has until Sept. 23 to pass the list on to Congress, which must accept or reject it in its entirety.
The panel will take a hard look at plans to merge Air Guard units into larger Air Force bases, Principi said.
"We need to see what the impact of doing that is to the Air National Guard and their ability to respond in the event of an emergency," he said.
In past rounds of base closures, the commission has adopted 80 percent to 90 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations. "We're not a rubber stamp for the Defense Department," Principi said.
Nearly every state, along with nearly every congressional delegation, is making the same pitch: Don't close our military bases. But most make the argument on economic grounds, based on the number of job losses. The Oregon contingent hammered on the public safety and national security issues.
The issue of savings
The group also argued that the Pentagon wouldn't save money in Oregon considering the cost of moving the planes, training new pilots and keeping the two Air Force alert jets ready. Furthermore, the officials said, the military recently spent $60 million renovating the Portland air base, an investment that would be wasted if the planes go elsewhere.
"I think there's a better than 50-50 chance this will be reversed," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.
Col. Brad Applegate, commander of the Portland jet squadron, told the panel that the Pentagon erred when it proposed taking the planes out of Oregon. It based its decision primarily on cost savings and its desire to reorganize the Air Force, without factoring in the Guard's role in preventing or responding to terrorist attacks.
"It's clear the Department of Defense recommendation completely disregarded homeland defense," Applegate said as a screen displayed a U.S. map that showed most areas protected by air bases but the Northwest conspicuously empty.
Fears for safety
Later, Applegate told reporters that he would have real fears for Oregon's safety if the jets are moved out of state. "My family's here," he said. "My kids are here. We know the risks are off the charts, and we can't stand it."
Delegations from Washington, Montana and Idaho, including Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, also made a case for keeping their military installations intact. The overall theme of the presentations, which included detailed maps and diagrams of jet response times, was one of leaving a corner of the country unprotected.
Under the current system, Air Guard jets from Portland can reach Seattle in 12 minutes, according to a presentation by Maj. Gen. Frank Scoggins, deputy commander of the Washington National Guard. The next closest fighter jets with homeland defense missions are more than an hour away in California, Scoggins said.
Scoggins also said the Pentagon may be causing an unintended public relations problem with its base closure plan, particularly as it affects the National Guard. By moving Air Guard units out of some states and centralizing them at bigger bases, "you disconnect citizens from the Air Force," he said.
Harry Esteve: 503-221-8226; email@example.com
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