by TSgt. Dan Heaton
127th Wing Public Affairs
Major Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais, adjutant general of Michigan, makes a point during a Feb. 17, 2012, news conference at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. Vadnais spoke about the value the National Guard provides to the nation and the key role the Guard plays in national defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by John S. Swanson) Hi-res
2/17/2012 - SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- A strong militia makes for a strong America, Michigan's top soldier said today.
And Major Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais aims to keep it that way.
Vadnais, the adjutant general of Michigan's Army and Air National Guard, is seeking to maintain the current levels of personnel, aircraft and mission assignments in Michigan - possibly seeking to grow those numbers - even in the face of overall declines in the nation's military spending.
"Put simply, it makes the most economic sense for our nation to put more of its resources into the National Guard, rather than the active duty force," the general said during a Feb. 17, 2012, news conference at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.
During the news conference, the general pointed out that the total cost of operating a squadron of 24 A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft in an Air National Guard unit is about $26 million per year. The same squadron in an active duty Air Force unit costs about $52 million per year - almost exactly twice as much.
The Air Guard's 127th Wing flies A-10s at Selfridge, but that unit, the 107th Fighter Squadron and its various supporting elements, is scheduled to be eliminated as part of an Air Force plan to reduce the number of A-10s in the overall inventory. That plan, along with a plan to eliminate a squadron of cargo aircraft slated to locate at a base in Battle Creek, Mich., will eliminate about 630 jobs in the Michigan Air National Guard - about a quarter of the total positions in the organization.
"The loss of the A-10 squadron at Selfridge air National Guard Base would be detrimental to the entire area," said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, one of several local elected and community leaders who attended Vadnais' news conference in a show of support for local Airmen. "Hundreds of jobs would be eliminated as a result of the plan, causing economic hardship to local families."
As the general spoke at Selfridge, a pair of A-10s were preparing to fly on a training mission. The pilots, engine mechanics, weapons loaders, crew chiefs and related A-10 personnel from Selfridge recently returned home after a 4-month deployment in Afghanistan. The 325 or so personnel who participated in that deployment have resumed a regular training schedule at the base, even in light of proposed cuts to their organization, to be ready to answer the next call.
Elsewhere on the base, Airmen from the Michigan Air National Guard's KC-135 Stratotanker unit, the 171st Air Refueling Squadron, are packing up to leave later in the month for a deployment to the Pacific Ocean region. Under the current Air Force proposals, an additional four KC-135s are to be stationed at Selfridge, in addition to the eight currently at the base.
"Our fighter squadron, our tanker squadron, civil engineers, security police - you name the squadron, they have been deployed time and time again and have served this nation well," said Col. Michael Thomas, the 127th Wing commander at Selfridge. "We sent our fighters into the sky on Sept. 11, 2001, and it has not stopped since. Our people are highly-trained, highly-motivated, and to say we are highly-experienced is an understatement."
Vadnais said he is also making a case to the nation's elected leaders in Washington D.C. that Michigan has borne too much of the brunt of past military reductions and that, with the Great Lakes State still recovering from a recession and the restructuring of the auto industry, making cuts to the military spending is simply unfair to the residents of the state.
Three major Air Force bases have closed in the state since 1977 and an Army garrison closed in 2005. Meanwhile, Vadnais said, Michigan ranks last among the 50 states in the number of Dept. of Defense employees and the per capita DoD payroll in the state.
"We all understand that the nation has to reduce spending. We get that. We are taxpayers, too," Vadnais said. "But what I am asking for is two things - fairness in who is sharing in the pain of any cuts and doing what makes the most economic sense for the nation as a whole. And that means keeping and strengthening our low-cost, well-trained forces in the National Guard."