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Murkowski Suggests Pentagon “Abandon” Eielson F-16 Plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Lisa Murkowski seized the opportunity of having the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to lay out the wide range of Alaskan concerns and the potential shortcomings surrounding the United States Air Force proposal to move the F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base.  She closed by explaining the valid reasons many in Alaska see this exercise as the beginning of a “Backdoor BRAC.”

Murkowski raised several key objections and possibly harmful impacts: the 168th Air National Guard refueling unit’s operations and capacity; what the cuts could mean to the Army’s training ranges nearby; the housing shortage in the Anchorage area and the impacts of flooding the Fairbanks real estate market with the homes of departing airmen, as well as the fact this move will cost millions upfront when it was initially purported to save money.  Then Murkowski boiled it down to a “direct question”:

“The very direct question I have for you is whether or not you will encourage the Air Force to abandon this plan for Eielson Air Force Base in 2013, take this proposal back to the drawing board and give it the thorough, comprehensive vetting that it must have to ensure that we are operating with the focus on the Asia-Pacific vision – so that this truly reflects the Pentagon’s new defense strategy.”

Defense Secretary Panetta’s response:

“I just want you to know … that we have no intention of closing down Eielson. It’s a very important base for us. It’s important for air refueling.  It’s important in terms of the role that we want to be able to play with regards to the Pacific.  Nothing that is being recommended here in any way is intended to impact Eielson as a future base for the Air Force.”

JCS Chairman Dempsey’s response:

“I will commit to you that I will go back and make sure I understand their plan better and then I’ll engage with you on it personally.”

In closing, Senator Murkowski responded to the two military officials that Alaskans are not concerned without reason, pointing out “Part of the proposed savings that the Air Force is looking to is demolishing several buildings within Eielson – the replacement of which looks to be about $150 million… It would appear to be a Backdoor BRAC and that is our concern, so again if I can ask you to do a very comprehensive review and work with us.”

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