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Sen. Begich Meets with Defense Secretary Panetta on Eielson Proposal

Saying Alaska plays a vital role in America’s national security, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today told Sen. Mark Begich that the Pentagon will provide him an analysis of the proposal to relocate the F16s from Eielson Air Force Base.

In a 30-minute meeting in Begich’s Washington, D.C., office, Panetta said: “We don’t want to do a backdoor BRAC,” in reference to the normal Base Realignment and Closure process where military bases are shut down. At Begich’s request, Panetta said he would provide a long-term plan for missions at Eielson.

“I appreciate the Secretary’s willingness to personally engage on the future of Eielson, which has such an important mission for our national defense,” Begich said. “I’m committed to getting answers from the Pentagon, which so far have been inadequate at best.”

Panetta came to Begich’s office at the senator’s request because the Air Force so far has failed to provide a cost-benefit analysis or long-term plan about why moving F-16 fighter jets from Eielson to Elmendorf Air Force Base makes economic or strategic sense. Under the Air Force’s proposal, Eielson would be converted to “warm” status, with hundreds of military personnel and families transferred out.

Begich noted that Alaska has some of the best military training grounds in the country, should be a contender for expanded testing of Unmanned Arial Vehicles and with climate change opening new opportunities in the Arctic, America needs to strengthen its military resources in Alaska.

“Eielson is a vital strategic asset to both the Air Force and the nation,” Begich said. “Moving the F-16 squadron from Eielson, especially on the basis of unrealistic and unjustified cost savings, is simply unacceptable.”

Begich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, placed a hold on the promotion of Lieutenant General Herbert J. Carlisle until the Air Force provides answers on the proposed F-16 move. The hold will remain until the Pentagon provides a full analysis.

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