Mountain Home Air Force Base was honored last week as it hosted the Air Force's top civilian leader. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James arrived here to honor the base's top performers during its yearly awards banquet.
It's extremely rare to have a person of this prominence visit your base, but to time it during such an auspicious occasion happens maybe once in a lifetime. While the Mountain Home News had hoped to meet with Secretary James during her brief visit with the Gunfighters, I'm honored that she chose to visit our base at this time.
I was equally delighted that she had time in her extremely busy schedule to meet with the men and women stationed at Gowen Field as well as our elected officials in Boise and Mountain Home. Having such a high-ranking person visit one part of the country for more than one day doesn't happen very often.
The feedback from her visit that I've heard so far was filled with positive remarks from our local airmen to our elected officials. For some, it was a much-needed breath of fresh air to listen to the perspective of the one who oversees the entire Air Force mission every day.
But not everything that Secretary James has dealt with in recent days has been uplifting. Her visit to Mountain Home Air Force Base and Gowen Field came just days after the Air Force's senior civilian leader outlined the catastrophic damage that would happen if Congress allows sequestration to rear its ugly head again in the next fiscal year.
Seeing flying operations at our local Air Force base come to a screeching halt for nearly three months the last time sequestration was allowed to happen should've been a warning sign to our elected leaders that playing political games comes with a high cost -- a significant decrease in military readiness during a time when our nation's military is needed the most.
Even with the Air Force's proposed budget -- if it gets approved as recommended -- still means a significant amount of cuts that those in uniform will have to shoulder. Despite being at a constant state of combat since Operation Desert Storm ended (adding in operations Northern and Southern Watch), the number of fighter squadrons that will remain at active duty bases will be less than a third than they were 24 years ago. The total number of active duty airmen will also be the lowest in the Air Force's history.
This is why the Air Force is looking at ways of performing the same missions by doing things smarter versus the "we've always done it this way" mantra. Consolidating military bases like the proposed move of airmen and equipment from Gowen Field to Mountain Home Air Force Base is part of that smart move.
The military has espoused a "train as you fight" mentality, which you can't do if the Idaho National Guard and our Gunfighters are roughly 50 miles apart. Keeping them at the same base means being able to consolidate resources.
Currently, Gowen Field needs its own security forces to guard its assets, personnel specialists to maintain people's records, a separate maintenance team to keep their aircraft ready to fly, and the list goes on. Moving those assets to this base frees up extra resources and money which can be put to much better use, such as paying for increased flying hours to keep our aircrews at peak proficiency.
Granted, I can't look into a crystal ball to see if this move would be a net gain or loss for our community. If the move happens, maybe we'll see more Guardsmen move to Mountain Home. Maybe they won't.
But this isn't about our community, per se. It's about preserving the nation's military might and doing it a whole lot smarter and (I sincerely hope) free from political interference.
I hope our elected officials don't dig in their heels and fight to keep Gowen Field at the Boise International Airport. Notice that I said "airport" and not Air Force base. Instead, I hope our elected officials give the Air Force and our military the funding they need while giving this consolidation plan their seal of approval.
It's best to relocate the Guard whose mission is better suited to an actual military installation versus a civilian airport.
I've always believed in picking and choosing your battles carefully. I hope our elected officials understand this isn't a battle they should choose right now. The bigger battle might come later down the road when the military prepares to close more stateside installations during the next Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, but that's another story for another time.
This brings me to another point. With the Guard tying up ramp space and hangars to park and store their aircraft, it makes a lot more sense to free up those resources and rent them out to civilian airline companies. I'd bet a month's salary that these airlines would jump at a chance to get their hands on those assets.
In short, everyone wins. Our base's mission expands, and our elected officials in Boise gain a tremendous amount of tax revenue by leasing out the resources currently being used by the Guard.
This consolidation idea isn't new by any stretch. During my time at Eielson Air Force Base outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, the Guard had its air refueling tankers and airmen stationed alongside similar aircraft on the base's flightline. There was no fight to keep those jumbo jets parked at a civilian airport. Everyone benefitted, and the mission there worked extremely well.
So why can't we make this work here? Let's stop fighting the change and follow the recommendations of the Air Force's top civilian leader.
What I don't want to see is another instance where Congress finds ways to turn down the Air Force's proposed budget, essentially saying that it needs to do more with less.
Contrary to what they might think, Congress can't have it both ways. It can't allow more budget cuts or let sequestration happen again and then fight to keep the bases in their home districts going. There simply isn't enough money to do both.
-- Brian S. Orban