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Air Force realignment: Four Alaska C-130s to retire, F-16s moving

Alaska Dispatch

An announcement from the U.S. Air Force brings news that a planned force realignment will affect Alaska.

The Air Force plans in fiscal year 2013 to retire four C-130H aircraft from its Air National Guard component at Anchorage's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), and to move the 18th Aggressor Squadron, a unit of F-16 fighter jets, from Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks to JBER.

The total force reduction and realignment is part of a broader strategic change and budget reduction. The changes will affect over 60 installations nationwide and will result in $8.7 billion in savings in both active and reserve forces.

Alaska's Washington D.C. delegation has registered their disapproval of the plan.

Congressman Don Young, Alaska's sole representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, expressed great concern for the Air Force's announcement in a media release Friday morning.

“We should not be moving personnel and equipment - especially C-130s that are crucial to search and rescue missions throughout Alaska - farther from the Arctic when we’re on the verge of finally realizing the potential of what the Arctic has to offer. I believe Fairbanks has a vital role in America’s military future and quite frankly serves as the northern anchor of the Pacific Rim and this country’s gateway to the Arctic."

Congressman Young has requested a briefing from the Air Force about how it plans to meet strategic objectives in the Pacific, "I want to know why this decision has been made especially after Fairbanks fought – and won – this relocation battle in 2005. I look forward to hearing what they say as well as working with the Governor and the rest of the Alaska delegation to resolve this.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed gratification that the F-16 Agressor squadron would remain in Alaska, she believes its rightful home is at Eielson Air Force Base. "(Friday’s) announcement is identical to the BRAC proposal the Air Force advanced in 2005, when the Fairbanks community conclusively proved to the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission that the Air Force would not achieve any savings by attempting to maintain a warm base in a cold place," she said in a Friday release. “Yet the Air Force suggests that today’s action will result in a cost savings in Fiscal Year 2015. I no more believe that they will be able to achieve that cost savings in 2015 than they could in 2005. I’m going to do everything in my power to change the Air Force’s plan."

Senator Mark Begich, Alaska's only member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reserved special scorn for the decision to move the squadron of F-16s: "Relocating the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson to JBER is an unacceptable proposal. I will not support the Air Force’s attempt to circumvent the law and the formal BRAC process by trying to piecemeal one of the most strategic installations in the country."

Sen. Begich vowed to "fight this action every step of the way."

Alaska's senators said in the release they plan to introduce legislation when the Senate reconvenes on Monday that would prohibit the Air Force from carrying out the plan.