The proposed list of base closing and realignments released by the Pentagon on May 13 would dramatically increase the size of two reserve-component aviation units. Both the N.C. Air National Guard at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport and an Air Force Reserve unit at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro stand to gain planes and personnel if the recommendations are approved.
The N.C. Air National Guard, also known as the 145th Airlift Wing, flies C-130 transport planes. Though Seymour Johnson is best known as the home of the 4th Fighter Wing and its F-15E fighter-bombers, the Air Force Reserve’s 916th Air Refueling Wing also is based there. It flies KC-135R tanker aircraft.
Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units usually have eight tanker or transport aircraft or 15 fighter jets. The Air Force has determined that these small units are suboptimal and that large units would be more effective. As a result, it wants to increase the size of its Reserve and National Guard units to at least 12 tankers or transports or 18 fighters. To get to the larger unit sizes, aircraft would be consolidated at fewer sites. When combined with the planned retirement of older model aircraft, about 40 percent of current ANG and AFR units would no longer be flying airplanes.
The decision as to where to eliminate or add flying is largely based upon the Air Force’s military value calculations. The Air Force has separately ranked all 154 of its installations on their ability to fulfill a variety of roles. Both Charlotte/Douglas and Seymour Johnson ranked favorably compared to other AFR and ANG bases. Charlotte/Douglas ranked 33rd in the airlift category, ahead of 16 of the 17 ANG C-130 bases for which the base closing report listed a military value ranking. Seymour Johnson was rated as 25th in the tanker category, ahead of numerous ANG and AFR bases.
The Air Force Reserve and National Guard-basing decisions are expected to be among the most controversial in this round of base closings. Anthony Principi, chairman of the independent committee that must approve the recommendations, has promised a thorough review.
“We’re a nation at war, the Guard and Reserves are playing a more prominent role than ever before, certainly [more important than] when I was in uniform. And now we’re going to be closing a significant number of bases, and people are going to have to travel greater distances to undertake their weekend drills” Principi told the American Forces Press Service. He expressed particular concern about the ground crews that keep the planes flying.
Michael Lowrey is associate editor of Carolina Journal.