WASHINGTON — The nation's governors are up in arms over a Pentagon proposal to make significant cuts to the Air National Guard.
It's an issue of particular importance to Iowa because proposed cuts to the 132nd Fighter Wing would result in the retirement of 21 F-16 fighter jets and the potential loss of hundreds of positions at a National Air Guard base in Des Moines.
The governors asked U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, both in writing and personally, this week to reconsider the proposal.
The Air Guard provides 35 percent of the Air Force's capability while consuming only 6 percent of its budget, the governors wrote in a letter to Panetta.
While writing that they understand the need to restructure the military to save money, the governors objected to the Air National Guard absorbing “59 percent of the total aircraft budget reductions and approximately six times the per capita personnel reductions.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, is co-chairman of a special council of 10 governors appointed by the president to focus on homeland security and the National Guard.
Branstad and other council members, in Washington for the National Governors Association's winter meeting, met with Panetta Monday at the Pentagon to make their case.
Panetta referred to the cuts as a “work in progress” during the meeting, Branstad said.
“I got some hope from that,” Branstad said.
Nearly all the governors had signed on to the letter by Monday, and Branstad said the fact that they are united across regions and party lines bodes well for the effort.
All governors are worried about where the Pentagon is headed with its budget proposals, said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican.
That's because the states rely on those Air Guard assets to move people and supplies around in times of emergency.
“When we have flooding, tornadoes and other natural disasters, we need that capability,” said Heineman, who is chairman of the governors association.
The adjutants general, the top Guard officials in each state, sent their own letter to top lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to express their concerns. They said the Air Force used a flawed process to develop a budget in which the Air Guard bears the brunt of cuts.
They complained that the Air Guard's experience and cost-effectiveness was overlooked in that process.
“The Air National Guard has the highest experience levels in the total force, the lowest base operating expenses and by far the lowest life cycle costs (including lower retirement and medical costs),” they wrote.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been watching the proposed cuts closely and said there may well be an effort in Congress to restore funding to the Air Guard.
“I might be inclined to do that, but only if I felt the cuts were too deep or in the wrong place, because I do give some leeway to the administration to make these decisions,” Nelson said.
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