Tester says C-130s still headed here

Great Falls Tribune

by Ryan Hall

The C-130 cargo/transport planes slated to come to the Montana Air National Guard next year are still scheduled to arrive in Great Falls, said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont, on Wednesday during a conference call with the Central Montana Defense Alliance, which supports military missions in the region. Last week, Air Force leaders said during a Senate committee panel that they were reconsidering the decision to move eight C-130s to Great Falls after the 120th Fighter Wing on Gore Hill loses its F-15 mission later this year.

Tester said he has spoken to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who told him that Air Force leaders and Defense officials are reviewing a proposal from a council of governors that suggests changes in the planned movement of planes among units, including the C-130 scheduled to be transferred to MANG.

Tester said the underlying tone from Air Force officials is to not worry about the proposal.

“On the other side of the coin, they haven’t come out and said that,” Tester told CMDA members.

He said the transfer of the C-130s is a “very, very important issue,” and one that he will continue to work on.

“I think what we need to do is to keep the pressure on,” Tester said. “As I said … there is no ifs, ands or buts about it, we are not going to take our foot off the gas pedal until those planes touch down on Gore Hill.”

He added that he has spoken with Defense officials three times since the Senate committee panel last week.

“The bottom line is … Panetta fully understood and understands the importance of MANG and why those C-130s are a good fit for Montana, and for Great Falls — and most importantly for the whole country,” Tester said.

He added that while northcentral Montana will miss MANG’s fighter jet mission, the C-130s could be of greater use in disasters such as wildfires and floods.

“I think these C-130s will have some beneficial use for Montana,” Tester said. “The governor, as commander in chief, can use these, I think, in a lot more flexible ways.”