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Sunday, 28 April 2013 22:00

BC biz leaders, military officials advocate for local base’s future

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BATTLE CREEK — A call from business and community leaders in Battle Creek to land an airlift mission at the Michigan Air National Guard (ANG) base may have fallen on deaf ears, but that won’t stop them from continuing to advocate on behalf of military personnel on the base.

“We’re really looking at how do we fight the fight to protect the ANG,” said Kara Beer, executive director of the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce.

In mid-March, base officials announced the Air Force would look elsewhere to place a squadron of eight C-130 cargo aircraft. Additionally on Sept. 30, the Battle Creek base will lose four C-21 passenger planes, the military version of the Lear Jet. Despite those losses, the base will move forward on an earlier Air Force decision to assign a unit of MQ-9 Reaper drone aircraft to Battle Creek.

The presence of the Battle Creek base adds an estimated $26 million to the economy of the city and surrounding areas, according to officials with Battle Creek Unlimited. The significance of this economic impact was a focus for business and community leaders, Beer said.

“We started a letter-writing campaign,” said Beer of members of a committee formed to secure the cargo aircraft mission in Battle Creek. “We turned that letter out to our members and we filled mailboxes with the phone numbers of leaders who are in support of the mission of our base.

“That base is important to the economy and livelihood of our community.”

Despite the base being passed over for the airlift mission, at least one military official is touting the cost savings that could be realized if the military started using more Reserve personnel like those in Battle Creek, instead of active duty personnel.

“As we go forward, the question becomes how do we get the most out of the taxpayer dollar to fulfill the national security and national military strategy needed to reallocate (personnel) so we have more forces in National Guard and

Reserve than in active duty,” said Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, director and Adjutant General of the Michigan National Guard. “In an environment today of constrained resources, the question becomes how can you most affordably put the capability into the force.”

As an example, he said the A10 aircraft out of Selfridge Air National Guard base in Harrison Township are exactly the same aircraft as those operated by the Air Force with the same readiness capability.  However, personnel at Selfridge cost about one-third of their active-duty counterparts.

Vadnais said Reserve personnel can transition from one mission to another in a relatively short time frame and can quickly prepare themselves when called to duty.

“Why keep it in an active component,” he said.

While the nation’s elected officials and top military brass debate this issue on Capitol Hill, officials at the Battle Creek base said they will continue to advocate for increased opportunities in areas including cyber defense, which Vadnais said is the future of warfare. A small cyber defense detachment is based in Battle Creek.

“We’ve got very cutting-edge technology here, and we have an air operations center which is only one of five in the United States that does air space management,” Vadnais said.  

Had the local air base gotten the airlift mission, about 250 jobs would have been added, according to Col. Ronald Wilson, commander of the 110th Airlift Wing. He went on to say that the number of employees at the base, which is currently at 965 full and part-time, over the next three years is expected to decrease by about 150. The majority will be lost through retirements and attrition and reassignments to other military bases.

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