U.S. evaluates 4 Ohio air force, guard bases

Panel skips Toledo, but 180th makes voice heard

Aerial view of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.
Aerial view of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

COLUMBUS — A federal commission re-evaluating the structure of the Air Force and Air National Guard to better fulfill their missions is visiting four Ohio bases this week, but it will skip Toledo.

Local officials, however, made sure the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing, its 100 officers, and its 1,000 enlisted airmen were heard in a Statehouse hearing held Tuesday.

“It is arguable, I believe definitely, that the 180th is, in fact, the finest fighter unit in the U.S. military,” said Ret. Col. Robert Decker, formerly of the 180th and chairman of the Toledo Regional Military Affairs Commission.

“As I was told as a child, ‘It isn’t bragging if you can back it up,’ ” he said.

On Monday, the commission visited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton and the Springfield Air National Guard Base. Before Tuesday’s hearing, it visited Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus. It will wrap up its Ohio tour Wednesday at the Mansfield-Lahm Air National Guard Base.

Commission Chairman Dennis McCarthy, a former assistant secretary of defense and a Columbus attorney, said nothing should be read into the lack of a visit to the Air Guard at Toledo Express Airport. He noted that the commission received a briefing from representatives from the 180th on its mission, capabilities, and modern facilities during the Springfield visit, in addition to hearing from Colonel Decker on Tuesday.

“We wish we could go everywhere, but there are only so many days and so many hours,” he said during a break in the hearing.

The commission must make its recommendations to President Obama and Congress by Feb. 1.

In 2005, the last time a Base Realignment and Closure Commission issued recommendations, several Ohio bases lost manpower and aircraft, while Toledo gained. But Mr. McCarthy said that is no predictor of what might happen with this commission.

“We are absolutely not a BRAC commission …,” he said. “Our focus is not on facilities. It’s on people and mission. We go to facilities primarily to see the people who are there.”

While the primary focus Tuesday, as with other states, was to make the best possible case for maintaining what Ohio has, Mr. McCarthy at times sounded encouraging in his comments. He took particular interest in Ohio’s scholarship for National Guard members, which guarantees members an education at a four-year college in exchange for a six-year commitment in the guard.

“We’ve heard that Ohio has been able to fill its ranks very early, that you even have a waiting list,” he said. “Would Ohio support a larger National Guard than the one it presently has, given the fact that there are direct costs to the state involved in that?”

Ohio Adjutant General Deborah Ashenhurst said Ohio is “ripe and open” to expansion.

“We believe that we could entertain more force structure in Ohio, and our National Guard would have no trouble recruiting to it [and] would have no trouble retaining it,” she said. “And I think the benefit to the state is worth the investment, and our governor and legislature would support us in that.”

In addition to its guard air wings in Toledo, Mansfield, Springfield, and Columbus, Ohio has six guard subordinate units with heavy engineer, weather, air-traffic control, and full-spectrum communications capabilities.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor noted that Ohio has the second largest National Guard in the country, assisting in the nation’s war and homeland-security missions and responding to weather and other emergencies at home.

“We have heard that the Air Force leadership has concerns about the accessibility of the Air National Guard assets for federal missions, and I am absolutely convinced that these concerns are unfounded,” she said.

“Despite the tremendous, irreplaceable value the National Guard assets bring to the state of Ohio, there has not been a single instance in which the Ohio National Guard did not respond in a timely manger to a request for support from the Department of Defense.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.