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Alaska plays a vital role when it comes to our nation's defense

General Billy Mitchell, considered the father of the Air Force, said in 1935: "Alaska is the most important, strategic place in the world."

He was right. Alaska is critical to the military's ability to execute our National Defense Strategy. The renewed focus on the Asian Pacific by the Department of Defense only makes our state more important to military training, operations and strategies.

This is evident in recent military decisions, like Secretary Chuck Hagel's announcement earlier this year to invest more than $1 billion at Fort Greely in enhancements to the missile defense system to counter threats from North Korea and Iran.

I have been working with the Obama administration and my Republican colleague, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, to ensure these critical investments are made to protect our homeland.

In July, the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which I am a member, approved $202 million in military construction for Alaska bases, including support for the F22s at J-BER and the Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

But Alaska has not been immune to some ill-conceived proposals cooked-up at the Pentagon to attempt to achieve cost-savings while sparing pet programs.

We saw this in last year's proposal by the Air Force to scale down and "warm" Eielson Air Force Base by moving the F-16's to J-BER - the same proposal pitched to and rejected by Congress in 2005.

The Air Force proposals made last year across the country were out of step with defense strategies and operations. They were offered as good ideas based on "assumed" cost-savings (really guesses) instead of facts and a long-term vision of how the Air Force should be structured.

For example, "warming" Eielson was "assumed" to save a mere $1 million a year - not nearly enough to make this a cost-effective move. If we want to have a serious conversation about proposing cuts, I've proposed over $400 million in wasteful Pentagon spending, including eliminating an over budget under schedule MEADS program. Eielson should not be part of that conversation. We need common-sense approaches to eliminating waste not half-baked ideas that don't save money and negatively hurt our communities

The Alaska Congressional Delegation - along with the Fairbanks North Star Borough, local elected officials and state legislators - has fought against "warming" Eielson. We've taken every action necessary to shift the focus to Eielson's military value, unrivaled training facilities, strategic location and central role in our country's national security.

We were successful in putting off this proposal for at least a year.

This month, the Air Force is planning to announce the fate of Eielson based on a "Strategic Assessment" conducted by General "Hawk" Carlisle, commander of Pacific Air Forces. He was directed to do this study by General Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff who I met with recently in Fairbanks.

Senior Air Force leadership has indicated to me Eielson's importance to the Asian Pacific focus and has cited it as a potential site for new missions and platforms, signifying that good news may be on the horizon.

Both General Welsh and General Carlisle have made public statements on Eielson's strength as well. Their keen and refreshing military perspective, in sync with strategy, is a breath of fresh air.

But we need to be prepared to win the war, not just the battle, so we don't have to fight this again in another seven or eight years. We must be prepared to take action and strongly support new missions and platforms, such as the F35 fighter jets coming to Eielson and strengthening our infrastructure at J-BER.

I remain committed to using my position on the Senate Appropriations Committee and working with both Air Force and Army leadership to solidify the future of all our military bases. I will continue to fight for a robust military presence throughout our state every day.

Regardless of the outcome of the announcement, one thing is certain: As Alaskans, we will never give up on Alaska's military and the role it plays in so many communities around our state.

Mark Begich has served in the U.S. Senate since 2009.



By SEN. MARK BEGICH