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Truax Airman takes concerns to House

Staff Sgt. Weston Chadwick, 115th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, stands behind Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, the Director of the Air National Guard, at an Armed Services House Committee that addressed the Air Sovereignty Alert Mission. (Photo: Courtesy)

Staff Sgt. Weston Chadwick, 115th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, stands behind Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, the Director of the Air National Guard, at an Armed Services House Committee that addressed the Air Sovereignty Alert Mission. (Photo: Courtesy)

MADISON, Wis. -- In April I was sent to Washington D.C. for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Air Sovereignty Alert operations. The hearing was prompted by a January 2009 General Accountability Office report on Homeland Defense. 

I met with Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, Director of the Air National Guard in his office at the Pentagon. The Pentagon was not what I expected it to be. The attitude was much more relaxed than what you see in the movies. In preparation for the hearing, we talked about some of the issues that ASA units are faced with. These issues include personnel, funding, dual tasking ASA and Air Expeditionary Force and aircraft life expectancy. 

My purpose at the hearing was to put a face with the story of issues encountered by ASA units. There is a significant difference between stating you have personnel issues and telling stories of exactly how personnel are affected by these issues. As many people know, the F-16s currently in use by the Air National Guard are slated for retirement within eight years. This dilemma will hinder not only the ASA mission but also the AEF cycles due to the dual tasking of ASA units. Currently, a formal plan to mitigate personnel and equipment shortages experienced by ASA units during their AEF rotations does not exist. 

Wing Commanders are more or less left to work with one another to cover the gaps. Funding is also an issue because the ASA mission is not funded as a steady state mission. Instead funding is issued in two year increments through appropriations or otherwise. Due to the instability in funding, turnover of personnel is considerably high. Some commanders say they lose their most experienced technicians because of instability. 

Neither General Wyatt nor I knew what to expect at the hearing. I was really nervous at first because I wasn't sure what types of questions were going to be asked of me. Originally I was to sit at the left of the general, luckily there weren't enough seats so I sat behind him instead. Because I didn't sit at the witness table I wasn't directly asked any questions. 

The hearing went well, and all involved agencies seem to be on the same page. The experience was an eye opener because I was able to see the problems we deal with here at Truax being addressed at the national level. General Wyatt spoke very adamantly about the need to include the ANG concurrently and proportionally in the aircraft recapitalization of the Air Force. This recapitalization would not be competitive with the Air Force because of the ANG's AEF rotations. Other possible solutions brought forth by committee members are the purchase of new F-16s or F-18s. These solutions were attractive because production lines are already in place, and the cost is less than 5th generation aircraft. Congressman Forbes of Virginia pointed out that in the past cost has driven strategy, and that because of the importance of the ASA mission perhaps strategy needed to drive cost. 

Something brought up by the Department of Defense representative is that the ASA mission is not an ANG mission, but a DOD mission. While the ANG currently provides ASA support at 16 of 18 sites, the DOD can use whichever assets from which ever service it deems necessary. With this in mind, and the impending "age out" of the ANG fighter force the possibility of other services being called upon to perform the ASA mission does exist. However, with the cost effectiveness the ANG has demonstrated it's hard to imagine the ANG not being included in future ASA operations. 

Congressman LoBiondo of New Jersey expressed concern that ASA is not in the mission statements of ANG units. It is for this reason why the dual tasking of ASA/AEF and manpower shortages surfaced as problems. He proposed that units performing ASA have it added to their mission statements. This would then help to get the funding and manpower required which would then alleviate many problems currently experienced by units performing ASA. 

Whichever actions the Air Force chooses to take with these problems, General Wyatt wants to ensure that the ANG is able to seamlessly integrate with the active duty force and whichever airframes it uses. The committee agreed that ASA needs to be funded as the number one mission of the DOD because homeland defense is the number one mission of this country. It will take time before we see results here at Truax, however it is reassuring to know that people in Washington are concerned and are willing to take action.
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