State seeking a seat at table

Great Falls Tribune

by Jenn Rowell

Air Force’s future reviewed by panel

Montana’s congressional delegation has asked President Barack Obama to appoint the lieutenant governor to a national commission that will advise on the Air Force.

On Thursday, Sens. Jon Tester, Max Baucus and Rep. Steve Daines sent a letter to Obama requesting that Lt. Gov. John Walsh be appointed to the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, which was created by Congress in January to make recommendations on the future of that service branch. Walsh was formerly the adjutant general of the Montana National Guard and retired last year as a brigadier general after 30 years in the Army National Guard. During that time, he commanded the 163rd Infantry Battalion in Iraq from 2004-2005.

“We are proud to recommend the nomination of Brigadier General John Walsh,” Tester, Baucus and Daines wrote. “Drawing upon his vast command experience and his keen awareness of force structure requirements, and the working relationships he has formed with military and civilian leadership, we believe General Walsh would be an ideal candidate for this commission.”

Last year, the Senate Armed Services Committee marked up the Air Force’s fiscal year 2013 budget and “was unhappy with the lack of analysis and justification” for the service’s planned reductions and argued that the cuts would disproportionately affect the Air National Guard. The 2013 fiscal year started on Oct. 1, 2012.

The SASC added $1.4 billion into the Air Force’s budget to prevent the reductions and changes in force structure for the next fiscal year. Included in the committee’s markup of the bill was the creation of the commission, which is required by the law to make a report to Congress no later than March 31, 2013, on its findings.

The military is facing a massive budget cut if Congress doesn’t address sequestration, which goes into effect March 1.

If sequestration does happen, the financial restraints on the Air Force would require the cancellation of about 200,000 flying hours this year, Gen. Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force, told the SASC last week.

“Roughly two-thirds of our active-duty combat Air Force units will curtail home station training, beginning in March, and will drop below acceptable readiness levels by mid-May,” Welsh told the committee. “Most will be completely non-mission capable by July.”

The Air Force has already instituted a civilian hiring freeze and officials have said furloughs would also go into effect if sequestration begins. Langley and Seymour Johnson Air Force bases announced last week that air shows planned for those bases in May have been canceled.

The panel will be composed of four members appointed by the president and four members appointed by congressional leaders.