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Indiana’s armed forces on defensive

Leaders anticipate budget threats to Guard, Reserve

– Indiana government and military leaders began devising a battle plan Wednesday to defend the state’s armed forces against federal budget cuts.

“We are going to work together I think in an unprecedented way to make sure that Indiana maintains its strength in protecting this country,” Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th, said during a news conference after the closed-door meeting.

Brooks, a Fort Wayne native; Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.; and Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann gathered with 16 state military commanders at the National Guard armory in Lawrence, a Marion County city northeast of Indianapolis.

Coats said one topic at the meeting was the potential for recommendations by the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

The prospect is “pretty strong,” Coats said. “It’s going to happen. That’s a lot of what we discussed.”

He said the military and government officials agreed they need to anticipate BRAC proposals by “selling our story … as to the cost benefits from these facilities.”

Not counting armories, recruiting sites and administrative offices, Indiana is home to a dozen prominent National Guard and Reserve installations. Asked whether the budget fight will be between the Guard and the active-duty side of the Defense Department, Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger said, “I think after every conflict – you can just read history – it usually comes down to that.”

Umbarger, the adjutant general of Indiana, said the Guard and Reserve operate for roughly 30 cents of every dollar the active-duty component spends.

“I think an operational Reserve and Guard is the solution, quite frankly, to these challenges,” he said.

Umbarger said he is waiting to hear from the Defense Department on the timing and duration of personnel furloughs under $85 billion in federal spending reductions known as sequestration.

Originally, about 1,000 technicians statewide – out of 14,000 military personnel – were expected to take one day of unpaid leave a week for 22 weeks beginning in late April. That has since been cut to 14, possibly beginning the third week of June.

Umbarger said sequestration “has hurt our wing up in Fort Wayne. We’ve got about an 18 (percent) to 20 percent reduction in our flying hours.”

Later, Col. David Augustine, commander of the 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne, told The Journal Gazette that many pilots were grounded for 30 days recently because of budget cuts.

“We’re back in the air. That’s a good thing,” he said.

Augustine said he told his colleagues at Wednesday’s meeting that the 122nd Fighter Wing will seek approval to have its squadron of A-10 combat jets replaced with the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

The 122nd Fighter Wing is ideally situated in a rural setting with plenty of room to expand, he said. He also said that Allen County is a “military-supportive, patriotic community. They will bend over backward to do whatever the National Guard and our 122nd Fighter Wing need to get into a future mission.”

The conversion would be several years away if approved. But it appears that state officials are looking ahead.

“This is just a very critical time for us to plan and strategize effectively,” Ellspermann said at the news conference, “to not only preserve and protect our assets but also to assess our strengths and target future opportunities.”

Coats said Indiana’s military and the contractors it relies on “can be even more extensive in the future.”

bfrancisco@jg.net

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