FAIRBANKS, Ak — In Fairbanks, there are some taut nerves this weekend.
That's because residents there today learned details of an Air Force plan to make drastic cuts at Eielson Air Force Base. General Norton Schwartz, The Air Force Chief-of-Staff, told a crowd of more than 200 people that the Pentagon wants to remove more than half of Eielson's 3200 workers -- military and civilian. The Department of Defense would also like to remove an entire squadron of F-16's.
19 of those F-16's would then be sent to Elmendorf Air Force Base -- in Anchorage -- in a move meant to save the Pentagon $35 million dollars over 5 years. But only 600 jobs -- out of 1600 positions cut -- would move to Anchorage... That's how the savings would be achieved.
United States Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski say the proposal is misguided. They believe that Alaska is key to United States interests in the Pacific Rim.
They argue that it does not make strategic sense to make any cuts in Alaska's military. The state is within 9 hours flying distance of 90% of the population of the Northern Hemisphere.
Murkowski and Begich plan to argue before the Pentagon that Air Force assets in the Lower-48 should be reduced, while Alaska's should Air Force should remain the same size or perhaps even grow.
They don't have much time to make their argument a success. Next month a Department of Defense delegation will visit Eielson to further investigate whether the proposed cuts would do what budget planners say they will.
Then Alaska's Congressional Delegation will have -- at most -- until the start of the new Fiscal Year, in October, to get the Pentagon to change its mind.
If it doesn't, the cutbacks will start at Eielson in the late summer of next year.
That would be awful, according to Senator Lisa Murkowski. She says that in rural areas of Alaska, military spending makes up 38% of the economy. She argues that cutting 52% of the personnel at Eielson would be devastating to the Fairbanks reason.
Both Senators say that even though Anchorage would get an economic benefit from the Eielson transfer, overall, the state of Alaska would be hurt. Both senators also believe the strategic interests of the United States would be hurt by such a move.
They have just a few months to convince the Pentagon that they're right.