Well here we go... again.
On Friday, the Defense Department announced to Congress that the United States is spending too much money on excess facilities and needs our lawmakers to step in and do something.
Translated: We have way too many military bases, and some of them need to close.
I can pretty much picture what happened when Congress heard this latest news. I expect that anyone with a military base in their district suddenly dug in their heels in opposition, arguing their base is "absolutely vital" to national defense.
Remember, this is the same Congress that not only allowed sequestration to happen but seemed to rejoice when those mandatory cuts in defense spending took effect. Those in the Mountain Home area know what happened next.
Flying operations at Mountain Home Air Force Base came to a screeching halt for nearly three months when sequestration took effect. That alone 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.
I'm guessing that Friday's news has left the same lawmakers shocked to find out what happens when you cut defense spending and expect things to remain status quo.
Whether Congress even allows this latest base closure threat to pop up on their radar seems questionable at best. Senator Kelly Ayotte, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee on Readiness and Management, made it clear that another round of base closures won't make it in the fiscal 2017 defense budget.
She added that the military simply can't afford another round of base closures.
Uh... did I miss something here? Did the Defense Department suddenly find a hidden pot of gold or hit the lottery and forgot to tell everyone?
Absolutely not. This is just the way Congress tells those in uniform to deal with things the way they are and make due with the money they have available.
Here's something many of our lawmakers have either forgotten or simply didn't know. The men and women in uniform have remained at a constant state of combat since Operation Desert Storm ended in 1991.
After the Gulf War, our forces continued to fly combat missions during Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch. Those missions were then replaced following the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, in which we stepped up the military's deployments as we engaged enemy forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, the Air Force's total number of fighter squadrons, including the two at Mountain Home Air Force Base represent a third of what they were 25 years ago. The total number of active duty airmen is also among the lowest they've been in the Air Force's history.
About a year ago, I supported a possible solution to the issue that involved moving the Idaho National Guard and all its assets to Mountain Home Air Force Base. From a financial standpoint, it simply makes sense housing these assets in one place versus splitting them up between here and Boise.
Currently, Gowen Field needs its own security forces to guard its aircraft, 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 here frees up extra resources and money that can be put to much better use, like allowing our pilots to fly more often to keep them at peak proficiency.
Granted, I don't expect our federal lawmakers or even those at the state level to budge one bit. I expect them to fight to keep Gowen Field at the Boise International Airport since they will argue that the base is vital to national security.
Notice that I said "airport" and not "Air Force base." From my perspective, it just doesn't make good financial sense to leave your military assets at a civilian airport. When your daily flying mission is restricted to working around commercial airline schedules, it sounds a lot smarter to keep those jets somewhere where you don't have your hands tied.
At the same time, it makes a lot more financial sense to take the hangars the Idaho National Guard currently uses and allowing commercial airline companies to either buy or lease those facilities. It would give the Boise International Airport a whole lot more resources to expand what it has to offer in terms of commercial flights in addition to all the cargo jets that fly there every day.
Who knows? That move could make Boise a major airline hub. It's also possible that would bring in enough tax revenue to offset anything it currently makes by keeping Gowen Field there.
I'd bet a month's salary that these airlines would jump at a chance to get their hands on those assets.
In the matter of fairness, I understand that our lawmakers seemed concerned that consolidating bases could impact recruiting for the Idaho National Guard. I beg to differ.
Consider the following. More than a third of the airmen at Mountain Home Air Force Base commute to and from the Treasure Valley every day. They don't seem to have any problems making that trip, so why wouldn't our Guardsmen?
I should emphasize that many of those same airmen use transportation provided by the Ada County Highway District to make that daily trek, which has been a constant source of irritation for me and others in our community. Simply put, our tax dollars are being used to pay for public transportation that takes tax revenue out of the Mountain Home community and puts it into the coffers in the Treasure Valley.
Here's something else to consider. This consolidation idea isn't new by any stretch. During my time at Eielson Air Force Base in 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 change and set the standard for other states to follow. If we make Mountain Home Air Force Base the model of U.S. military readiness, we can help guarantee that we won't have to worry the next time the word "BRAC" raises its ugly head.
-- Brian S. Orban