Adjutants general take aim at Air Force consolidation plan

The top National Guard officers from eight states will argue their case Thursday against stripping all aircraft from 23 Air Guard facilities at a public hearing before the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission in Atlanta.

Adjutants general will use the opportunity to vent frustrations with the Air Force, which they say shut them out of base-closure discussions. Whether their states stand to gain or lose from this BRAC round, adjutants general have been united in their opposition to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's base closing recommendations. They argue that removing transport and fighter planes from Air Guard bases and consolidating them -- making them "enclaves" -- would hurt recruiting and retention, and ultimately could affect the Guard's ability to respond to emergencies and disasters.

The hearing will focus more on the consolidation of aircraft instead of the Air Force's decision-making process in a bid to sway the commission to keep Guard aircraft where they are, sources said.

One general will argue that the decision will force highly skilled pilots and crews into combat support jobs, potentially influencing their decision to re-enlist. Others will argue that the Pentagon's cost savings are exaggerated and not worth risking states' homeland security and defense missions. For instance, if the commission adopts the Pentagon recommendations, a large chunk of the Northeast will be without Air Guard C-130 transport planes, which could hinder their responses to emergencies in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, foes of the decision contend.

Whether the hearing will have any influence on the commission's final decisions, due Sept. 8 to the White House, is unknown. But foes of the closings contend the hearing at least will force commissioners to focus on Guard-specific issues for one afternoon. "We'll have to wait and see ... how commissioners react to the information given to them on Thursday," a source said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers whose states are hurt by BRAC decisions are in the middle of a letter-writing campaign to raise awareness. House and Senate members have written to the chairmen of the Armed Services committees, requesting hearings on the matter.

"Essentially, the 'air' is being taken out of the Air Guard that these individuals joined or look to join," according to a June 15 letter to Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., from 24 senators.

Lawmakers also said they believe the enclave issue is a way to circumvent the base-closure process.

"Such bases would have shrunk so much that they could not accommodate the growth required for a follow-on mission," according to the letter. "So, in reality, these enclaves are closures that will happen slowly and without following the BRAC process."

Neither committee has scheduled hearings on the issue.

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