When President Obama lands at Mansfield Lahm Airport today, I hope he takes time to stop in and talk to the fine Airmen of the 179th Airlift Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard. He should ask them about their recent tour in Afghanistan and the award-winning support they provided to our most forward deployed soldiers -- that is, until his proposal brought the deployment to a premature end.
Sadly, if President Obama has his way, his Air Force One arrival would be one of the final flights into Mansfield Lahm Airport. Despite numerous reports highlighting the critical capability the C-27J, an advanced cargo plane the 179th operates, provides to our deployed soldiers, President Obama wants to mothball these brand new aircraft and do away with the 800 Guardsmen at the base.
The 179th has a unique mission with the C-27J. The need to procure these aircraft and put them in the trusted, experienced hands of National Guardsmen was born out of the taxing logistics environments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and smaller deployments around the world. The aircraft are built to quickly get the right cargo load to small airfelds and remote units, and that’s just what the 179th proved during the aircraft’s maiden deployment.
Getting rid of this critical mission is bad for the communities, the Airmen affected by these cuts, and our deployed soldiers. It’s no secret the Army doesn’t like this decision by the Obama Administration – the Army identified the need for this plane and with the Air Force figured out that other planes couldn’t do as good a job and were not as cost-effective.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this year, I asked General Ray Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army, for his thoughts after he visited our Airmen from the 179th in Afghanistan. He reaffirmed the very successful difference this aircraft and its crews were making to the Army soldiers they were supporting. He also made clear the critical need they filled was not going away anytime soon.
When I asked deployed commanders how they were going to deal with the loss of this aircraft in Afghanistan, I was told they would have one larger C-130 available to try to fulfill the mission of a pair of C-27Js. Just in April, two C-27Js were flying over a dozen missions a day, providing tailored support packages to combat units in need. To have to do this with one aircraft will either be impossible or will drive air crew and maintenance personnel to their limits.
While I was in Afghanistan last month, I saw firsthand the extraordinary work our service men and women are doing every day. I know our great men and women in uniform will always adapt and overcome to get the job done, but why take away one of their best tools?
It became very clear to me as I sought the analysis behind this proposal that this was one of many strategic decisions not thoroughly thought through. That is why we proposed a freeze to these decisions on the Armed Services Committee. Unfortunately, while we’re on track to keep these aircraft in the fleet for another year while we sort out this mess, President Obama has already brought these aircraft back from their vital mission in support of our soldiers.
And not only did his proposal impact our deployed soldiers, President Obama’s plan to mothball all of these aircraft might save a little money upfront but will likely cost the taxpayer a whole lot more over the long run.
We have a long way to go to get our fiscal house in order. The Defense Department has already begun to draw down its spending as is common through our history after periods of sustained conflict. The only difference this time: the war isn’t over yet.
The President’s unwillingness to show leadership as we seek to avert the coming defense sequestration, a cut of an additional half-trillion dollars from the Defense budget that his own Defense Secretary has called “devastating” to our national security, provides insight into his spending priorities.
I hope President Obama has time to see what the 179th does after he gets off Air Force One in Mansfield. If he does, maybe he’ll think twice about those priorities.
Republican Robert Jones "Rob" Portman is a lawyer and the junior United States Senator from Ohio.
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