July 26, 2005

National Guard leaders challenge base cutbacks

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders of state National Guard
units have challenged the Air Force's authority to strip their
units of aircraft and personnel, adding to a chorus of state
opposition to the Pentagon's proposed extensive cutbacks of
Guard units.

The Adjutants General Association urged the Base
Realignment and Closure Commission in a letter to reject the
majority of the Air Force's base closure and restructuring
recommendations pertaining to Air National Guard units.

"The Adjutants General believe the proposed recommended
actions are beyond the scope of the Base Closure Act and it
would therefore be improper to include these actions in its
recommendations to the President and to the Congress," said the
association, made up of National Guard leaders in each state.

The group in the letter dated Monday said it would offer an
alternative plan that would leave an Air National Guard flying
unit in every state and provide governors with regional access
to air refueling and tactical airlift units for responding to
domestic emergencies.

It said 83 percent of the Air Force's base closure and
cutback recommendations involve Air National Guard units. Many
of these moves involve shifting aircraft to other bases, often
in other states.

Major Gen. Roger Lemke, president of the Adjutants General
Association, said on Tuesday the group was challenging those
which did not involve a full base closing. He said once the
aircraft move, the units would lose 75 percent to 80 percent of
their personnel.

Although the group's letter did not constitute a legal
challenge, Pennsylvania and Illinois have sued the Defense
Department in an effort to halt moves of Air National Guard
fighter jets to other states.

In both cases, the states have invoked federal laws that
prohibit changes to National Guard units without consent of the
state's governor.

Missouri attorney general Jay Nixon also has threatened to
sue the Pentagon over the planned transfer of 15 F-15 fighter
jets from the Missouri National Guard 131st Fighter Wing in St.
Louis if the move is not reversed by the base closings

In a letter to Gov. Roy Blunt, he said Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld has "run roughshod" over principles in the U.S.
Constitution that give states rights to maintain militias.

The Air National Guard plans are among cutbacks at 837 U.S.
bases recommended in May by Rumsfeld in the first base closures
in a decade. The base closings commission is due to submit its
changes to the list by Sept. 8 to President Bush. He and
Congress can accept or reject the list in its entirety but can
make no changes.