ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In meetings with community leaders in Fairbanks and Anchorage April 10 to April 12, the Air Force general tasked with implementing the relocation of the F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson promised a transparent process that will incorporate the deep concerns raised so far about impacts and whether the projected cost savings will be realized.
Brig. Gen. Mark McLeod, director of logistics for Pacific Air Forces based at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, said he has “marching orders” to implement the F-16 move from Fairbanks to Anchorage as part of global cost-cutting in fiscal year 2013 under President Barack Obama’s budget.
McLeod must submit his report on the move by May 31. Congressional hearings with the armed services chiefs are scheduled for the same time period.
“I’ve asked all the community leaders to continue to bring their issues forward through what I call their chain of command — which is more the civilian side up to local representatives and elected officials,” McLeod said after the meeting. “That will allow us to bring this full discussion to light.”
The move would eliminate 623 positions at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, with the projected cost savings of $32 million over five years based on cutting 81 military jobs in the move to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or JBER, in Anchorage.
JBER would not have a net increase of 542 positions, though, as four C-130 aircraft there are also being retired in fiscal year 2013 along with 237 active duty personnel in Anchorage. The combination of the 21-plane, F-16 Aggressor Squadron moving to JBER and the loss of the C-130s results in a net increase of 125 positions.
Under the president’s budget, the Air Force must find $8.7 billion in savings for fiscal year 2013, but community leaders in Fairbanks told McLeod on April 11 that assumptions about projected cost savings from the F-16 move were wrong, that the action would jeopardize missions for the Pacific-Asia region, and that the impacts on the Fairbanks
North Star Borough demanded a thorough environmental assessment that has not been done.
In a meeting hosted by Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan on April 12, McLeod was also faced with questions of trust that date back to the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process in 2005, when the idea of moving the F-16 squadron from Eielson to Anchorage was stopped because the projected cost savings were shown to be erroneous.
Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, who had representatives at both meetings with McLeod, have pointed to the BRAC commission decision in 2005 to overturn the Air Force recommendation to shift the F-16s from Eielson to JBER.
The Alaska Congressional delegation has also sought, but not yet received, the underlying cost data being used to back up the proposed savings.
Begich, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he plans to fight the move “every step of the way.”