Transfer of Eielson fighter squadron to Anchorage on hold

Associated PressJune 26, 2012 

FAIRBANKS -- A temporary reprieve of the Air Force's plan to move F-16 fighter jets from Fairbanks to Anchorage was announced Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich received a letter from Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, saying the transfer is on hold, at least until fall 2013, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Begich, D-Alaska, said the written commitment came Tuesday after he met with Schwartz in a "tense but pleasant" meeting.

The letter says the Air Force will conduct environmental and housing impact studies on moving the squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

The Air Force would then move the squadron if it's feasible and if it's been determined congressional authorization isn't needed for such a move.

The military earlier this year proposed moving the fighter jets as a measure that would save up to $200 million.

"This is some of the best news I've had the chance to deliver to Alaskans: that the Air Force has recognized its proposal to move the 18th Aggressor Squadron was not well-vetted and analyzed, and that there is certainly no support in Congress for such action," Begich said in a written statement. "Eielson plays a vital role in the nation's defense and I'm committed to defending that role."

Alaska's congressional delegation questioned the reasoning, and pushed the military for more studies.

A 26-member military task force visited Eielson in April. It assessed 10 specific areas -- including operations, logistics and manpower -- and concluded that the relocation plan was "satisfactory" in seven areas and "marginal" in three.

None of the areas studied was deemed "unsatisfactory," according to the report.

The report stated that the relocation of the F-16 squadron isn't the first step toward a full shutdown of Eielson. It says Eielson will continue to be a "valuable strategic location" as the home of a National Guard refueling wing and a hub for local training operations.

The report determined 623 jobs would be affected at Eielson in fiscal year 2013, with most of them transferred to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The departure of an additional 749 Air Force and 179 civilian positions is planned in 2015.

In all, the job losses represent about half the 3,100 military and civilian positions currently at Eielson.

Air Force officials announced their plan in February in response to the Budget Control Act that is requiring the Department of Defense to identify $487 billion in savings during the next decade compared to previous spending plans.

The report estimates direct manpower savings from the F-16 relocation at $14.6 million during the next five years. That is due in part to eliminate 81 positions. When related costs are included, estimated savings came in at $227 million during the same time span.

Citing a lack of responsiveness from the Department of Defense, Begich put a hold on the promotion of an Air Force general in April, citing his frustration with what he saw as the uncooperative nature of the Air Force regarding information about the F-16 transfer.

Begich said Tuesday he will release the hold on the promotion of Lt. Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle to four-star general, the News-Miner reported.

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