BILL CRAWFORD: Governors challenge Air Force cuts

By Bill Crawford

The Air Force has stirred the political pot as massive defense spending cuts loom. Last week Gov. Phil Bryant joined 48 other governors in a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to voice opposition to Air National Guard cuts proposed by the Air Force.
The governors call the cuts “disproportionate,” arguing the Air National Guard would “absorb 59 percent of the total aircraft budget reductions and approximately six times the per capita personnel reductions” compared to the active duty Air Force.
“We are asking Secretary Panetta to reconsider these drastic cuts and to work with governors to develop a better budget approach,” Bryant explained.
A day later, a similar letter from National Guard Adjutants General was sent to the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain. The adjutants general complain they were “excluded from the Air Force budget process.”
Mississippi Adjutant General Leon Collins joined in the letter that argued, “It is counterintuitive that the Air National Guard, which comprises 21 percent of the uniformed members of the Total Air Force, would bear 59 percent of the total aircraft cuts.”
Despite a last minute “candid” meeting with Air Force brass, Air National Guard leaders “reaffirmed our concerns with the flawed processes, assumptions and criteria that produced the Air Force budget request.” They asked Congress to freeze implementation of the Air Force 2013 budget request “pending the results of an open and transparent review process.”
The adjutants generals contend that 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)” and is the only military component “that can serve the President and our Governors and the only component underwritten by shared state-federal cost arrangements.”
It is this point, “serve the President and our Governors,” that underlies governors’ complaints. In addition to superbly supporting the Air Force in its national defense mission, the Air National Guard supports homeland defense and states, particularly during natural disasters. The cuts proposed by the Air Force not only reduce manpower available to the governors, they whack and eliminate equipment important to homeland defense and natural disaster missions.
The proposed cuts to the 186th Air National Guard unit in Meridian serve as an example. The Air Force wants to cancel purchase of C27J short-haul aircraft. In addition to meeting theatre needs for the Army, the C27J better meets natural disaster support needs.
The Air Force position seems clear. It’s willing to snub states, Homeland Security, the Army, whoever, to maintain its as much active duty manpower and equipment as possible.
I’m betting the governors get that changed.
Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.