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Military says Eielson will have a purpose

Posted: February 16, 2012 - 1:13am

FAIRBANKS — More details have emerged on Eielson Air Force Base’s likely future after its F-16 fighter plane squadron moves to Anchorage as part of the Air Force’s cost-savings measures.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Stephen Hoog, the senior military officer in Alaska, told the Legislature’s Joint Armed Services Committee that Eielson will continue to have a purpose after the move, a small relief to those who believe the move sets the base up for closure through a Base Realignment and Closure Commission process.

Hoog, during an overview of the state’s military operations, said Eielson will keep the National Guard’s refueling unit and will continue to play a critical role in Alaska’s Red Flag training exercises, three of which are scheduled for this year.

Tuesday’s presentation came days before a planned visit to Eielson by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and a public meeting hosted by Sen. Mark Begich at the Carlson Center on Saturday.

However, just how much of the base’s roughly 1,800 active-duty personnel will be restationed with the 21 F-16s to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage is still unknown, he said.

“If you mapped out everyone who touches (the F-16s), you’d be looking at about 900 folks,” he said. “Having said that, the tanker mission is still going to maintain its mission, still going to maintain its alert status, so for us to draw a one-to-one link between this number and anything happening will be premature.”

Hoog said an analyst will be arriving at the base in March to work out the logistics of the move and the future of the base, but he said Eielson won’t empty out anytime soon.

“What I would expect is that JBER F-16s will probably send some of their aircraft if not the majority to operate out of Eielson during the duration of these exercises,” he said, “because, remember, when you bring in Red Flag Alaska, you bring in units from all over the world ... so when Red Flag Alaska goes on (Eielson) will be full of airplanes again.”

Much of Hoog’s presentation shied away from specific numbers over savings. It was a signal to Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson, who sat in on the meeting, that there’s still hope to keep the F-16s, and their personnel, in Fairbanks.

“It left me with the impression that this isn’t a done deal yet,” he said. “It’s encouraging that we still got a chance of not having them move. It’ll be interesting, I hope that we don’t lose that much of the base because it will have a definite impact on Fairbanks and the area.”

The likelihood of continuing missions at Eielson makes it unclear if the move will really get the savings the Air Force is hoping to reach, Thompson said. That failure to find savings was the same thing that thwarted a closure in 2005 during the last BRAC round.

And getting to the bottom of those savings will be at the heart of a local effort, led by the Fairbanks North Star Borough, to fight the move. Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins said the borough is finalizing a contract to a firm to study the numbers behind the Eielson move.

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Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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