Montana Air National Guard funding good for Montana

Great Falls Tribune

by David Weissman

The future is bright for Montana, the Electric City and the Montana Air National Guard.

After years of hard work by MANG leaders, our congressional delegation, and community leaders, we got word this month of a valuable and well-deserved new flying mission for MANG: eight C-130H cargo planes are heading to Great Falls.

It's a critical mission that has tremendous military necessity, as well as adding Homeland Security and firefighting capabilities. This mission is expected to have a long life cycle and will preserve hundreds of jobs in the Electric City, while offering new opportunities. It is a smart fit for our nation's overall military strategy as the Air Force looks to shrink the number of units and aircraft in their inventory.

No one – from our congressional delegation to community leaders – wanted to see MANG's F-15s reassigned to California. However, the Air Force has stood firm on that decision even as we made numerous attempts to convince them otherwise.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester worked closely with the adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, Gen. Walsh, the assistant adjutant general of the Montana Air National Guard, Gen. Livingston, and the Central Montana Defense Alliance as we all learned the F-15's were headed to Fresno, Calif.

It was our collective efforts which helped secure the C-130H's for the Montana Air National Guard in Great Falls. The Central Montana Defense Alliance thanks Max and Jon for their tireless efforts in securing this new mission.

Montana is home to some of the most professional and talented airmen in the nation. Our airspace is wide open. MANG's record of excellence is proven. When our eight new C-130H's arrive in Great Falls, we'll welcome them to Montana as a long-lasting asset serving our nation's military strategy.

After all, the C-130H is known as the work horse of the Air Force. The transport can carry more than 90 passengers and up to 45,000 pounds of cargo.

It can be used to help fight wildfires and conduct search and rescue operations. Bottom line: this mission will be an important part of Montana's military community for many years.

Working together on this mission reminds us the importance of bringing everyone to the table. When it became clear that the Air Force would restructure Air Guard units in the face of budget cuts, we reached out to our delegation and Max and Jon responded.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them, the Central Montana Defense Alliance, the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce and other organizations sent a clear message to the Pentagon: MANG must always remain a key part of our nation's military strategy.

Thanks to this new mission, it will.

– David J. Weissman is the chair of the Central Montana Defense Alliance.