News: US Air Force structure announcement impacts North Dakota Air National Guard
FARGO, N.D. — Today’s force structure announcement from the U.S. Air Force, which focuses on manpower in its response to proposed fiscal year 2013 budget cuts, places North Dakota’s Air National Guard in a unique position. Under this budget, North Dakota would be the only Air National Guard without a manned flying mission but it would be one of only three states to maintain authorized positions under the proposed changes.
"We recognize that the Defense Department and the U.S. Air Force have difficult choices to make with regard to reorganizing and restructuring the military to meet new threats and economic realities," said Gov. Jack Dalrymple. "However, the Air National Guard plays a critical role in our national defense and should not have to bear an unfair amount of the reductions in aircraft or personnel. Furthermore, North Dakota's 119th Wing has been a prominent force in our country's defense and we will continue to work to retain a manned flying mission in our state."
Dalrymple, N.D.’s congressional delegation and adjutant general, Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, have remained strongly opposed to cuts to the manned flying mission in the state. They’ve been joined by leaders across the United States in expressing concerns in letters to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and others. The cuts come as a result of Department of Defense's efforts to cut at least $487 billion in defense spending during the next decade.
“While we are extremely disappointed that we are projected to lose our manned aircraft mission in this budget, the addition of this new mission will allow us to maintain current airmen strength,” said Sprynczynatyk. “The C-27J Spartan cargo aircraft would have enhanced our state’s domestic emergency response capabilities and support of federal missions abroad. We will continue to aggressively pursue a manned flying mission at the 119th Wing even in light of today’s announcement.
Following the base realignment and closure commission report in 2005, the 119th Wing prepared to retire its F-16 fighter jets, which it did in 2007. The wing successfully transitioned to flying the MQ-1 Predator, a remotely piloted aircraft, along with the C-21 Lear jet, which was intended to be a “bridge mission” to keep the unit flying and skilled in aircraft maintenance until the expected C-27J Spartan flying mission arrived later this year or early 2013. Defense Department proposals indicate that the entire C-27J program will be divested rather than begun, as planned, with four of the aircraft in North Dakota, as well as six other states.
In addition to the North Dakota Air National Guard not receiving the C-27J Spartan, the proposal indicates that the C-21 mission will be retired as previously planned in 2013. In those missions’ stead, the Happy Hooligans have been named as the recipient of an intelligence group mission, although specific details about that unit’s composition are still uncertain.
The Happy Hooligans expect to continue to operate the Predator from Fargo, as well as to continuing to work closely with Minot Air Force Base’s 91st Missile Wing. North Dakota Air National Guard’s 219th Security Forces Squadron is fully integrated with the active-duty forces at the base securing and protecting the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Nationwide, the force structure announcement indicates that 5,500 positions will be cut from the Air National Guard, with the force shrinking by 5,100 in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The remaining 400 positions are scheduled to be eliminated in the following years. In its entirety, the nation’s Air National Guard comprises more than 35 percent of the total Air Force capability while operating at less than six percent of the total Air Force budget.
Since its inception in 1947, the Happy Hooligans have maintained a stellar flying record known around the world. During its fighter jet era, the National Guardsmen earned the title of “world champions” several times in the William Tell Competition, competing against the best fighter pilots and crews in the U.S. and Canadian air forces. Since assuming the C-21 mission, pilots have flown about 14,000 hours.
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 3,800 soldiers and more than 1,800 airmen in support of the global war on terrorism. Currently, about 275 North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas while more than 4,000 remain in the state for emergency response and national defense. For every 10,000 citizens in North Dakota, 65 serve in the North Dakota National Guard, a rate that’s more than four times the national average.