Guest Column

Keep Toledo’s Air National Guard base


Congress is unlikely to approve a new round of military base closings before 2017. So some Toledoans might believe that the Air National Guard base at Toledo Express Airport is safe for now. The reality is starkly different.

The effects of the federal budget sequester are already felt within our military community, from work furloughs to reduced maintenance and flying hours. Congress’s refusal to authorize a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission does nothing to address the $1.2 trillion in forced reductions in defense spending caused by the sequester and debt-ceiling agreement.

The 180th Fighter Wing is a vital economic engine of our community, and a critical asset to America’s combat capabilities. The budget challenges faced by the Defense Department threaten our base, our airmen, and our community.

Even if Congress reverses the sequester, the department must still cut costs by $490 billion to $800 billion. The end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq requires a significant restructuring of the nation’s military, with or without a base-closing commission.

The Pentagon and the Armed Services already are aggressively using other processes to reshape their infrastructure. In 2011, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates eliminated Joint Forces Command — a move that some analysts estimate cost the Norfolk, Va., region 10,800 jobs and $600 million in taxable income.

The White House has given every indication that it thinks the sequester will continue. The Office of Management and Budget recently asked federal agencies to plan for an additional 5 percent reduction in their 2015 budgets.

And the budget Congress approves could be even smaller. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has indicated that spending cuts will occur across the Defense Department.

The easy cuts in the defense budget have already been made. Personnel and health-care costs cannot be cut. It’s unlikely that overseas troop cuts will occur in the near term. So reducing defense infrastructure is one of the only options left to trim the budget.

A recent study ordered by Congress and conducted by an independent, bipartisan panel concluded that the Air National Guard can perform at one-third the cost of the active Air Force. As we cut costs, we need to maintain well-trained military personnel in the most cost-efficient fashion.

Toledo’s Air National Guard unit continues to perform at an outstanding level and is a tremendous asset to this region and the nation. Our local military base is home to one of the finest fighter units in the United States. It is an incredible combination of outstanding people, the best equipment, and superb base infrastructure.

Community officials, state government, and our congressional delegation must work together to promote and preserve our base. Last month, the military affairs committee of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce testified about the 180th Fighter Wing and the base infrastructure at Toledo Express during a hearing in Columbus convened by the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force.

With such continued advocacy, we can ensure that the 180th Fighter Wing and the Toledo region will have a bright future together.

Robert Decker is chairman of the military affairs committee of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.