Baucus, Tester, Schweitzer hold Air Force accountable on MANG mission change

Baucus, Tester bring Central Montana Defense Alliance to Meet with Top Air Force Officials in D.C.

(Washington, D.C.) – Montana’s U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester along with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer pressed the Air Force this week for answers on the proposed change from an F-15 to a C-27J flying mission for the Montana Air National Guard (MANG) station in Great Falls.  Baucus, Tester and Schweitzer sent a letter to the Secretary and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force yesterday thanking the Air Force for the new C-27J mission, but expressing concerns over potential job losses and unnecessary spending as a result of transferring the current F-15 mission.  Baucus and Tester hosted the Central Montana Defense Alliance in Washington for a meeting with Director of the Air National Guard, General Harry Wyatt, and express those same concerns today.

“The Air Force needs to understand that for Montana, MANG is not just a military mission.  MANG is part of the Great Falls community.  MANG provides jobs and supports families,” Baucus said.  “The new C-27J mission is a strong flying mission.  But, each and every job on Gore Hill is important to Montana, and the Air Force leadership in D.C. needs to explain why millions of tax dollars should be spent moving the F-15s to California.  That’s why we brought General Wyatt face-to-face with a room full of Montanans who care deeply about this issue today to show him we need a solution that will secure jobs for Great Falls.”

“I appreciate General Wyatt coming in to talk with us, because we’ve got some serious concerns,” Tester said.  “We were able to have a frank conversation about the critical role MANG plays in keeping our country safe.  I look forward to continuing to talk and make sure any decision made is the right one for MANG, and for Montana taxpayers.”

“I am very proud of the men and women of the Montana Air National Guard,” said Schweitzer. “These loyal, hardworking folks, their leadership and their civilian partners deserve a straight answer from the United States Air Force and the National Guard Bureau about their future.  I commend the members of the Central Montana Defense Alliance and the citizens of Great Falls for their commitment to this mission.”

Central Montana Defense Alliance is part of the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce and a leading advocate for Air Force missions at MANG.  The group sent a letter similar to Baucus, Tester and Schweitzer’s last week and attended the meeting with Baucus and Tester in Washington Today.

“We’re so thankful to Senators Baucus and Tester and Governor Schweitzer for their continued support for MANG.  We want to particularly thank Senator Baucus and Senator Tester for making it possible for our members to speak directly with the Air National Guard’s Director, General Harry Wyatt today.  To us, it does not make good business sense to move F-15s to California while MANG has a proven track record of providing quality national security. The personnel at MANG are also active and engaged members of our community who deserve to be heard during this process. Great Falls loves the sound of freedom!” said Central Montana Defense Alliance Chairman David Weissman.

Baucus and Tester have met with Air Force officials regularly since the Air Force signaled in 2008 their intention of moving the F-15 mission out of state. Baucus and Tester have been working to find a solution that will allow MANG to keep the F-15 mission and the hundreds of jobs that go with it or find another strong flying mission that strengthens national security, serves Montana, and keeps all the good paying jobs at MANG.

Baucus, Tester and Schweitzer’s latest letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz is attached. Text of the letter follows below. 


November 29, 2010

Dear Secretary Donley and General Schwartz:

Thank you for your recent notification that the Montana Air National Guard in Great Falls has been selected as the preferred site for the next round of C-27J basing.   As you know, we and all Montanans are proud of the airmen who serve in the Montana Air National Guard and we are confident that they will perform any mission at the highest degree of professionalism and excellence.  We believe the C-27J constitutes a strong flying mission that would serve as a valuable asset for the State of Montana for decades.  As you know, this versatile cargo aircraft can transport emergency responders and their equipment into the most remote corners of the state.

However, we have a number of concerns that must be addressed before we can support the proposed change of mission.  First, it is our understanding that the C-27J mission proposal could result in a reduction of approximately one-third of the current manpower assigned to the 120th Fighter Wing.  To capitalize upon the full potential of the Montana Air National Guard, we urge you to strongly consider the Montana Air National Guard as a future bed-down location for a Remotely Piloted Aircraft mission.  As the Air Force itself has noted, the big skies of Montana are well suited for cutting edge remote piloted aircraft technology and we would be proud to see Montana airmen engaged in this essential mission.  However, we are concerned that the Air Force has not yet identified a secondary mission for the Montana Air National Guard that is compatible with the Air Force’s stated observations about the applicability of remotely piloted aircraft to the Hays Military Operations Area.

Second, we are deeply concerned about the cost of the proposed change of mission for the Montana Air National Guard.  The Air Force currently proposes two mission conversions – one at Fresno (F-16 to F-15) and one at Great Falls (F-15 to C-27J).  According to Air Force figures, the cost of these two conversions combined would exceed $68 million.  Surely it would be more cost effective for the Air Force to do a single conversion and keep the F-15 mission in Great Falls.

Particularly in this difficult budget climate, it is no longer appropriate for any federal agency to do “business as usual.”  Rather, every part of our government must find ways to maximize taxpayer resources.  We ask that you provide a detailed explanation of why this proposed mission change is the most cost effective way of protecting national security.

Finally, we are concerned that the 120th Fighter Wing may be moved, reduced in assigned aircraft or deactivated as much as two years before the scheduled arrival of the C-27J mission.  In our view such a lengthy delay between missions jeopardizes the recruitment and retention of these extremely well-qualified airmen.

Thank you for your strong commitment to the Montana Air National Guard, the Air Force, and the United States of America.  We look forward to working with you to resolve these concerns and ensure that the airmen of the Montana Air National Guard – and the 120th Fighter Wing in particular – remain a vital part of the Air Force for years to come.