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O'Malley, governors oppose cuts to Air National Guard

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Forty-nine governors, including Martin O’Malley, are “strongly” opposing “disproportionate” cuts to the Air National Guard in the Air Force’s 2013 budget request.

Among the cuts, the Air Force plans to cancel the C27J cargo aircraft, which would leave the Maryland National Guard without the ability to airlift troops, equipment or supplies during deployments overseas or natural disasters back home.

Maryland Air National Guard Col. Scott L. Kelly, the commander of the 175th Air Wing at Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, says it is unclear what will happen to the 250 members of the 135th Airlift Group if the state loses its three C27J Spartan turboprops.

The group, which has been preparing for deployment to Afghanistan later this spring, began taking delivery of the planes only last year. The state was scheduled to receive four C27Js to replace the eight larger C130J Hercules planes it lost in the last round of military base realignment.

Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, the command of the Maryland National Guard, has said four planes would be inadequate to perform all missions effectively and could limit available aircraft to respond to disasters in Maryland.

The final decision is up to Congress. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs its tactical land and air forces subcommittee, has questioned the plan to stop buying, maintaining or flying the C27J.

The governors, in Washington for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, met on Monday with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and other Pentagon officials.

“Over the past decade our National Guard has evolved into a cost-effective operational force that is critical to our national security and our ability to respond to domestic emergencies,” the governors wrote in a bipartisan letter to Panetta.

“The Air Guard provides 35 percent of theU.S. Air Force’s capability for six percent of the budget.  It performs a variety of domestic missions, including transporting vital personnel, equipment and supplies during emergencies and assisting in daily drug interdiction operations.”

The letter was signed by O’Malley and the governors of 45 other states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam. The governors of Texas, Florida, Ohio and Idaho have withdrawn from the association and did not participate in the letter.

“As Commanders-in-Chief, we appreciate the need to reorganize, restructure and modernize the military to meet new threats and economic realities,” the governors wrote. “We also understand the need for cost-effective means to achieve these goals. Given these realities, we must oppose the proposal that the Air National Guard absorb 59 percent of the total aircraft budget reductions and approximately six times the per capita personnel reductions.”

On the same subject Monday, the commanders of the National Guard in all 50 states and four territories wrote to the leaders of the House Armed Services Committee to express their “deep concern” about the Air Force budget request.

The adjutants general, including Adkins, said they had been excluded from the Air Force budget process, which they said involved “flawed” assumptions and criteria.

They asked Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the Republican chairman of the committee, andRep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat, to hold off on approving the Air Force request pending a “disciplined, objective, analysis-based” review.

“It is counterintuitive that the Air National Guard, which comprises 21% of the uniformed members of the Total Air Force, would bear 59% of the total aircraft cuts and approximately six times the per capita personnel cuts, especially in light of our country’s current and foreseeable fiscal posture,” the generals wrote. “The Air National Guard has the highest experience levels in the total force, the lowest base operating expenses and by far the lowest life cycle costs (including lower retirement and medical costs).”

The generals said they had asked the Air Force for more than three years to provide a “comprehensive long range plan for the Total Air Force” but have not received a response.

“Absent such a plan, it is reasonable to assume we will be in a continuous cycle of budget cuts that eliminate aircraft and personnel assigned to the Air National Guard by the Air Force,” they wrote. 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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