Sunday, May 22, 2005

Cutting the military to fight a war on out of control spending.

Recently the nation has received news that the Pentagon has called for the closure of 33 major military installations and the downsizing of hundreds of other facilities as it unveiled the nation's first base restructuring in 10 years. And West Virginia's 130th Airlift Wing has not been spared the misfortune of the cut-backs.

As the Charleston Daily Mail reported these cut-backs will affect many young college students who utilize the guard for higher education.

"In the Air National Guard, Senior Airman Danielle Massey and about 300 of her peers at the 130th Airlift Wing have found a way to express their patriotism while earning money for college. Massey, 19, of Nitro is enrolled at Marshall University, where she hopes to earn a degree in journalism. She also works in maintenance at the 130th's base adjacent to Yeager Airport."

The future for part-time Guard members remains uncertain after the Department of Defense placed the 130th on its base realignment and closure list in an attempt to cut billions in expenses nationwide. The move would strip the 130th of its eight C-130 cargo planes and transfer them to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. This move would be very difficult and problematic for the local area part-time guardsmen who hold other jobs and also attend college. If the decision to alter these bases is upheld, the transformations could start next year and be completed within six years.

One concern is that the recommendation to realign the 130th ignores the fact that the Guard is a community organization with many part-timers instead of an active duty military installation. What does a commander do with such a mess? Many of these contracted guardsmen live in the local community, go to college in the community, work in the community and can not commute hundreds of miles one weekend a month without having some sort of trouble balancing the issues.

Nationwide, the Army and Air National Guard has not reached the numbers it would like to in terms of enlistment and with a reduced number of available base locations the number will most likely decline further. But recruitment is not a problem for the 130th, which has a reputation for being one of the best-run units in the country. The unit is ranked eighth out of 89 units in staffing and fifth in retention with a 97 percent rate. It also was named the Air Force's outstanding unit four times since the 1970s and was recognized by the National Guard Association four times for best overall operation. In the last year, the 130th has added 106 recruits, including 14 women.

The 130th employs 320 full-time military and civilian staffers, while another 700 guardsmen are assigned to the unit. The base provides about $71 million to the local economy annually in goods, services and salaries. While this figure is not as large as other bases which have a $100 million or more value, these statistics show that this base has quite some positive community influence.

The 130th gives back what the federal government invests in it. About 30 Air Guard members left for a mission in Germany on Sunday, joining about 140 fellow members already deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The 130th is on its 10th 60-day rotation since mid-2003.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV., hopes a visit by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission to the 130th will make the personnel issue debatable. She sent a letter Thursday to the chairman of the commission asking members to visit the 130th as soon as possible. By law, at least two commission members must visit the base before the C-130s can be relocated.

"Local officials are eager to work with the military to expand and fortify the 130th Airlift Wing rather than abandon a critical outpost," Capito said.

"The commission's visit will show how the Secretary of Defense deviated from the established military and economic criteria when recommending the realignment of the 130th Airlift Wing."

With West Virginia already in preparation for huge change now that the newly elected Governor is sweeping reform across the state to the business table, we should be prepared to handle the DOD's decision whether it is to secure the activity of the base or to shut it down.

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