News: Florida Air Guard says alert mission continued despite shutdown issues
Story by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A critical Florida Air National Guard mission providing air-sovereignty over the Southeast United States was operating at “100 percent” despite challenges associated with the recent government shutdown.
According to Vice Commander of the 125th Fighter Wing Col. Robert Wetzel, the public should feel secure that the unit continued its Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) mission even though it was confronted with some potential obstacles due to mandatory furloughs in early October.
“They should be completely confident in us,” Wetzel said from the 125th’s headquarters at the Jacksonville International Airport. “The Air Force, the Florida Air National Guard and the National Guard Bureau all recognize the importance of the mission.”
Under direction of Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region at Tyndall Air Force Base, F-15 Eagle pilots with the 125th Fighter Wing’s Detachment 1 are on continuous 24-hour air defense “ready alert” status at Homestead Air Reserve Base in South Florida. If called, the Air National Guard pilots can scramble their jets to intercept any unidentified or hostile aircraft.
“We are on immediate response 24 hours a day, 365 days each year,” Wetzel said of those Guardsmen assigned to the alert mission. “These are very dedicated Airmen that take this business of defending our homeland very seriously.”
Wetzel explained that even though some of their technicians at the base in Jacksonville were on furlough for the first week of October, the pilots and maintainers at Homestead were all exempt from the shutdown. Also, the 125th staged extra F-15s in South Florida to compensate for any aircraft maintenance issues at the alert site.
An early concern was if the technicians remained on lengthy furlough, the 125th would not be able to provide long-term aircrew proficiency for the pilots. Nor would they be able to perform extended maintenance on the F-15s.
“As time went by it would have had an impact,” Wetzel said. “It would have eroded our readiness and compliance as regards to the alert mission…but in the near-term it was not a significant impact to our readiness.”
Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Souza, aircraft maintenance superintendent at the 125th, admitted the government shutdown presented potential dilemmas for them, “but they are not taking our focus away from meeting the ACA mission” of providing homeland defense.
“It is still 100 percent up,” Souza, who was initially furloughed with more than 200 technicians at the 125th Fighter Wing, said. “We didn’t miss a beat. We pressed right on through it.”
All furloughed federal technicians returned to work Oct. 17 after the 16-day shutdown ended.
The Florida Air National Guard has performed an alert mission in Florida since the late 1950s, but since 2001 its alert has been in support of Operation Noble Eagle.