The Ohio Air National Guard brought in a bipartisan strike force to launch their fight to keep an aircraft program at a base in Mansfield. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports
The top brass of the Ohio Army National Guard tried out their case for the C-27J before a group of reporters in a hanger at the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield – even taking a few up for a quick trip over Lake Erie 80 miles north. The Department of Defense 2013 fiscal year budget cuts, designed to trim 487 billion dollars over the next decade, scraps the C-27J program – and all wings across the country that fly this cargo plane are getting new missions except for the one in Mansfield. Nearly 800 jobs could be lost if the federal cuts hold – and Ohio’s Adjutant General, Major General Deborah Ashenhurst, says that if there’s no iron on the ramp – in other words, no aircraft to fly – she fears there’s no reason for the Mansfield base to stay open.
“I agree we do need to cut the budget. But I think the more cost effective way to cut the budget is to maintain a larger force where we’re less expensive, and the Air Guard and the National Guard as a whole is a lot less expensive than a standing Air Force. Don’t mean we don’t need a standing Air Force – we certainly do. I just see it more cost effective to make the larger force the reserve components, not the active duty.”
In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the entire Ohio delegation on Capitol Hill is fighting together to get a turnaround at the Pentagon. Republican US Senator Rob Portman says it’s a simple money matter.
“This plane can operate at about 2,100 bucks an hour. The larger C-130 that the Air Force is proposing to have replace this operates between 6 and 7 thousand bucks an hour. And frankly, a lot of these missions, you don’t fill up the plane. So this is a much more cost effective way to accomplish a really important mission.”
And Democratic US Senator Sherrod Brown says the C-27J is a smaller, more flexible complement to the much larger C-130 that the Air Force wants to replace it with.
“The C-27 can land in places after tornadoes and earthquakes in the United States, in southern Ohio – southwest Ohio just had an awful tornado – can do that when a C-130 couldn’t. So it’s environmentally more sound.”
The Ohio National Guard is the first guard unit in the country to be validated as a first responder to homeland emergencies, and the C-27s supporters say it’s a great plane to be used in domestic crisis situations. Master Sgt. Mike Keller of Sycamore flew one to assist with a recent mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
“We could actually get supplies to them last minute. I think before we got in theatre, it would take them anywhere from three days to a week sometimes to get critical supplies to the front, and we were doing it under 24 hours. Anything – moving people, equipment to keep other aircraft running, even blood.”
The lawmakers are scheduled to meet with the secretary of the Air Force to make their arguments for the C-27J program. But Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi, whose newly redrawn Congressional district will include the Mansfield base if he wins this fall, says this is one battle in a long war.
“Well, when you got a target on your chest and you’ve got the administration and the Pentagon wanting to get rid of you, it’s going to be hard. But I think there’s an opportunity to be successful here, and remember – if we’re successful this year, that doesn’t mean it goes away, because we still have the Base Closing Commission to deal with. So I think even if we’re successful this year, we still have to continue to fight.”
If the federal budget cuts proposed a few weeks ago do go through, nearly two hundred jobs are also likely to be lost at the Rickenbacker Air Base south of Columbus. And around 50 could go away at the Springfield Air National Guard Base. But the Air National Guard does expect new part-time jobs in medical and security forces in the future.