Guard Chief Vows to Minimize Personal Impact of BRAC on Air Guardsmen
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 15, 2005 The National Guard Bureau chief vowed to work closely with Air Force leadership to ensure that proposed base closures and realignments don't adversely affect the Air National Guard or its members.
In an interview, Army Lt. Gen. Steven Blum acknowledged that the Defense Department's recommendations, announced in May, could have a big impact on the Air Guard.
If the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, President Bush and Congress approve the BRAC list, 30 Guard flying units will be affected. Seven states will have no Guard flying units, causing opponents of the plan to charge that it "takes the air out of" much of the Air National Guard.
Blum said he supports the recommendations, calling them an important step toward shedding excess infrastructure and modernizing for the future. The result should be "a more efficient and cost-effective and capable force" that's better prepared for current and future missions, he said.
Getting to that point, however, won't be without some initial angst. "If BRAC affects your zip code, your home station armory, your unit, then you think it's a catastrophic impact," Blum said. "If your base is closed, it affects your life."
Blum said those in leadership positions owe it to their members "to explain what the big picture is and how they fit into the big picture."
And he insisted that all Air National Guard members will continue to fit into that big picture. "Nobody who wants to remain in the Air National Guard will lose an opportunity to serve in the Air National Guard because of BRAC," he said. Leaders in the Air Force and Air National Guard will work to accommodate people who want to remain in the Guard, although they may have to travel farther to their assigned units and some may have to do different jobs, Blum said.
"We will try to give them lots of options so they can remain in uniform, remain in the service of their nation, even though it may not be doing the same job in exactly the same unit," the general said. "And frankly, some of the jobs they are doing now are not what we need the Air Force to be doing in the future."
Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, Air National Guard director, said the Air Force may be flying fewer airplanes in the future, but will be carrying out other missions, from intelligence and expeditionary combat support to space operations and unmanned aerial vehicle missions.
"The harsh reality is that the Air Force will be buying considerably less force structure -- airplanes -- than we now fly," James said during an interview when the BRAC recommendations were announced in May. "That means we may close units, combine units or share airplanes. We expect to do some of each."
For those whose flying missions are affected by BRAC, James promised to "do everything I can to secure a future mission that is relevant and funded."
The Air National Guard needs to adapt to carry out "new missions and new roles that will be needed tomorrow and 20 years from now, and not what we used to be (doing) 20 years ago," Blum said.
Members of the BRAC Commission are visiting installations on DoD's closure and realignment list, making determinations about the proposals and how well they support long-term readiness goals. They'll scrutinize the list "through the lens of today" and "not the rear-view mirror" to determine if they "make sense for tomorrow," Blum said.
The changes, similar to those the Army National Guard has already experienced, are important measures that will increase the Air Guard's contribution to the Air Force and U.S. military, Blum said. "We want (the Air National Guard) to be an organization that has modern capabilities and a vital essential part of the Air Force."
"Overall, BRAC equals transformation," Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Smith, Air National Guard command chief master sergeant, said when the BRAC proposals were announced. "The Air National Guard is always changing. Change has been done for generations before, and now it's our turn."