Battle Creek Enquirer: Congress Bucks Base Closure Plan
May 24, 2012
By: Maureen Groppe
Congress is rejecting the Pentagon's plans to cut planes and personnel from the Air National Guard and to review all military bases for potential closure next year.
That should block for now changes that could have cost hundreds of jobs from the Michigan Air National Guard, including about 70 in Battle Creek.
"We decided we just better put a freeze on this for a year," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee which voted Thursday to block the cuts. "There was a broad feeling in the committee that the Air Force did not have a basis that was solid for where they were making these reductions."
The House last week approved its version of a defense bill that likewise prevents the Pentagon from making any changes in personnel and aircraft.
"Obviously we're pleased that we got the support out of the Congress to do what I think is the right thing," said Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general for the Michigan National Guard.
In addition, neither the Senate nor the House bill authorizes the two new rounds of base closures requested by the Pentagon.
That provision is one of multiple objections to the House defense bill that prompted a veto threat from the Obama administration. The administration hasn't released an opinion yet on the Senate's version.
The Senate proposal calls for the creation of a new commission charged with determining the best future structure for the Air Force. That commission would have to make non-binding recommendations for any equipment or personnel reductions to Congress by next March.
Michigan has few military installations left and the ones in Battle Creek were scrutinized in the past.
The Pentagon wanted to close the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base in the last round of base closings in 2005. But the independent commission that made the final decision overturned that recommendation. And a 1993 commission didn't go along with Pentagon plans to close Battle Creek's Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center where the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services is based.
The administration says more closures are needed to ensure "that limited resources are available for the highest priorities of the warfighter and the national security."
The Pentagon asked for the closures and changes to the Air National Guard as part of how it plans to meet the $487 billion in reductions approved last year when Congress agreed to increase the nation's debt limit.
The House bill authorizes $3.6 billion more than the president requested and $8 billion more than the limit set by the debt limit agreement.
Rep. Tim Walberg, whose district includes the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, said last week he was especially pleased that the House bill prevents the Pentagon from replacing the Guard's planned C-27J cargo aircraft mission at the base.
"Our nation's men and women in uniform deserve the faith and continued support of their country and government leaders," the Tipton Republican said.
The Senate bill is funded at the level requested by the administration. Levin said there was no single funding shift his committee made to continue to fund the aircraft and Air Guard positions that the Pentagon wanted to cut.
"We made about 150 changes in the president's budget request, roughly," Levin said.
Michigan would have been among the states hardest hit by the Air Force's proposed aircraft changes. Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County could have lost at least 561 jobs through the Pentagon's desire to get rid of the 24 A-10 fighter planes stationed there.
Governors across the country complained that the Air National Guard would bear a disproportional share of the Air Force cuts. The Pentagon came up with an alternative proposal that restored some of the aircraft and personnel, but lawmakers were still not satisfied.
"Never underestimate the influence of the National Guard," said Arizona Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.