To spare Air National Guard unit from military cutbacks
Published: Monday, February 27, 2012, 10:40 AM Updated: Monday, February 27, 2012, 2:53 PM
By Ted LaBorde, The Republican
View full sizeThe Republican file photo | Mark M. MurrayAn F-15 fighter jet from the 104th Air Wing at Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield takes off.
WESTFIELD – The best defense for the Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing in avoiding federal budget cutbacks may hinge on its multiple missions and the duties its members perform, Guard leaders say.
Tasked to provide homeland security for the Northeast with its F-15 Eagle fighter jets, the unit also can be assigned to combat duty as needed around the globe and, like all National Guard units, also delivers emergency response assistance to the state.
The multiple roles which members of the 104th can fulfill are being cited by state, local and military officials as they go to bat for the unit at Barnes Regional Airport and other military installations across the state as the Pentagon proceeds with plans to chop $259 billion from defense spending for fiscal 2013.
“The Massachusetts Guard has joined with Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, the state Legislature, our congressional delegation to enhance the synergy with business, local communities and labor to promote the benefits to the state from the National Guard,” said Maj. Gen. L. Scott Rice, state commander of the Air Guard.
The Air Force has already targeted the C-5 Galaxy jet cargo transports at Westover Air Reserve Base’s 439th Airlift Wing in Chicopee for a potential reduction from 16 to 8 aircraft by 2016 because of pending defense budget cuts. Also on the chopping block over the next four years are as many as 400 government jobs at Hanscom Air Base in Bedford, many associated with that base’s Electronic Systems Center.
“I don’t see any (Guard) cuts at Barnes right now, but there is a potential for some in the eastern part of the state,” Rice said. “Nationally, we anticipate a possible 10 percent in reduction so every state will share in that burden. We in Massachusetts will see some of those cuts.”
Gen. Scott Rice
Along with the 104th, the Air Guard in the Bay State includes the 102nd Intelligence Wing based at Otis Air Guard base in Bourne, the 253rd Combat Communications Group, the 212th Engineering Installation Squadron and the headquarters staff and band, both of which are based in Milford but will be moved to Hanscom this spring.
U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, and Sens. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., and Scott P. Brown, R-Mass., last week filed their concerns with Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley about Westover and all military units and installations in Massachusetts. The delegation is leading efforts to convince the Pentagon to keep cuts in the Bay State to a minimum; the lieutenant governor is also leading a statewide effort to garner support from cities and towns, business leaders and residents to provide support for units like both the Air and Army Guard groups at Barnes.
Aside from its military responsibilities, the 104th Fighter Wing “plays a major economic role in Westfield and the entire region,” said Westfield Mayor Daniel M. Knapik. “The Guard is a fabric of our community. It provides jobs and services throughout the region. It is a most valuable asset in times of emergency.”
The Guard is also a major partner in planning for the future of Barnes Regional Airport, civilian airport manager Brian P. Barnes said.
“The benefits to the airport and especially Westfield and the region in general is huge. Often, the 104th brings 100 percent funding for repairs to the runways, meaning many times not a dime out of our budget or the state is spent on that work. They also contribute to the maintenance needs such as snowplowing,” said Barnes.
The airport manager, himself a past member of the 104th, credits the Guard presence as a “major contributor” to the recent decision by Gulfstream Corp. to expand and build a $100 million maintenance hangar at Barnes. “They provide security not only for the Northeast but the airport,” Barnes said of the 104th. “Their presence is a major benefit in means of security for businesses like Gulfstream and others including those who hanger aircraft at Barnes.”
The 104th Fighter Wing flies 18 F-15 Eagle jet fighters, and the unit deploys overseas, at least 150 Guard members deploy in support of every six aircraft. That support includes pilots, weapons personnel, mechanics, clerical and security.
The wing has about 1,100 full and part-time Guard members. There are also about 65 civilians employed at the guard base.
An example of the 104th Fighter Wing’s efficiency and flexibility is a pending deployment to southwest Asia in mid-spring. That deployment, expected to last 90 days, will involve both personnel and equipment, including several of the unit’s F-15 Eagles.
© 2012 masslive.com. All rights reserved.
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