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Air Guard plan would limit Pentagon's proposed closures

Plan would allow every state to keep a flying mission.

Air National Guard leaders have drawn up a proposal to lessen the blow of Pentagon recommendations to ground roughly one-third of the country's 88 Air Guard units, but their detailed plan did not receive immediate endorsement from the independent Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

The proposal, written by several adjutants general, asks the commission to accept only 11 of more than 50 recommendations affecting the Air Guard.

It would allow every state to keep a flying mission and prevent the Air Force from creating so-called enclave units without planes.

Commissioners, who reviewed the plan for the first time during a public hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday, do not see it as a viable approach to resolving the Defense Department's contentious Guard recommendations.

"We will solve this problem," Commission Chairman Anthony Principi told reporters after the hearing. "We will act decisively." Commissioner Lloyd Newton, a retired Air Force general, likewise noted that "the problem is still ours."

Last month, Principi asked the Air Force and Air Guard to strike a compromise and resolve the matter on their own, before the commission makes its recommendations. The Air National Guard issue has become the most hotly contested of the Pentagon's recommendations, pitting a unified front of adjutants general against senior Defense leaders. Meanwhile, several governors have filed lawsuits contending that the Defense Department does not have the authority to take aircraft from or otherwise alter state-run Guard units.

The recommendations, state officials argue, would restrict states' ability to protect themselves against terrorist attacks. Taking aircraft from Guard units would have a "ripple effect on ... readiness and [our] ability to support homeland security needs that [will be] irreversible," Maj. Gen. Roger Lempke, adjutant general of Nebraska and president of the Adjutants General Association of the United States, said at the hearing.

But Defense Department officials have stood by the recommendations, stating repeatedly during the hearing that relocating the aircraft will form larger, more capable squadrons and will "not create an unacceptable risk." Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. Northern Command, told the commission he is less concerned with the location of aircraft than the total number of planes available.

The BRAC panel will consider the Pentagon's recommendations later this month, and forward its own base-closure list to the White House by Sept. 8. Commissioners have said they plan to review an analysis of the Air Guard recommendations conducted by the Justice Department before deciding on the proposed move of Guard aircraft. Principi told reporters Thursday that he had received the Justice Department report Wednesday, but would not reveal any details until the commission completes a legal review of the document.

A source who reviewed a summary of the decision said the Justice Department defends the Pentagon's Air Guard recommendations and does not raise any questions over the legality of the moves. In July, an attorney for the commission wrote in a legal brief arguing that the recommendations might be unconstitutional and infringe on a governor's right to maintain militias.