August 27, 2005

US governors vow to fight Air National Guard cuts

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Governors and legislators from
several U.S. states are vowing to fight proposed Pentagon
cutbacks at Air National Guard bases after a military review
commission approved stripping aircraft from dozens of units.

In one contentious move, the independent panel reviewing
proposed military base cutbacks voted on Friday to close the
Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base near
Philadelphia. That came despite a federal court ruling barring
deactivation of a Guard unit at the base without Pennsylvania
Gov. Edward Rendell's consent.

The commission changed wording in its motion to leave the
Pennsylvania Air National Guard 111th Fighter Wing intact but
ordered it stripped of its A-10 attack jets.

Rendell, who argued the U.S. Constitution grants states the
right to maintain militias, reacted with defiance.

"Unless they get the (federal court) decision overturned,
no one is going anywhere," the Democratic governor said in a
statement posted to his Web site.

"If someone showed up tomorrow from the federal government
and said 'give us the planes', as the Commander in Chief of the
111th, my answer would be 'no' and we'd hand them Judge (John)
Padova's order."

The U.S. Justice Department said in a memo issued before
the Philadelphia ruling that the base closings law passed by
Congress took precedence over other federal statutes governing
National Guard units.

In Missouri, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt ordered the state's
attorney general to sue the Pentagon and the commission for
moving Guard fighters from St. Louis.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. William Delahunt said if the
state exhausted its legal options to save the Otis Air National
Guard Base on Cape Cod, he would seek to defeat the base
closing recommendations legislatively.

Otis, which launched F-15 fighters in response to the
September 11 attacks on New York, was a major site for East
Coast air defense, although the commission voted to move some
F-15s to an Air Guard base in Westfield, Massachusetts.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pledged to continue his court
fight against the move of F-16 fighters out of Springfield,
Illinois, which he said would "impact the safety and security
of the entire Midwest."

"First the Pentagon ignored the law," Blagojevich, a
Democrat, said in a statement. "Now the BRAC commission has
ignored the facts and the criteria it was supposed to follow
and apparently is paying off political debts in states like
South Dakota, Florida and Texas."

More states could mount challenges, said Christopher
Hellman, military policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control
and Non-Proliferation, in Washington. "It has the potential for
undoing a lot of what the Pentagon asked for."

Commission Chairman Anthony Principi said the panel took
care to ensure its actions were legally sound, but disputes
over the Guard bases were now in the hands of the Justice

The nine-member panel, which completed its review on
Saturday, spared several large bases from closure, including
Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, the New London
Submarine base in Groton, Connecticut, and the Red River Army
Depot in Texarkana, Texas.

The commission must send its changes to President George W.
Bush by September 8. He and Congress can accept it or reject it
in its entirety but can make no changes.