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F-16s fly at Eielson after budget restored

Posted: July 18, 2013 - 12:08am

FAIRBANKS — An Air Force fighter squadron based at a Fairbanks base has returned to the air after Congress has restored lost funding because of budget cuts.

The F-16 Aggressor Squadron based at Eielson Air Force Base has been grounded for three months because of budget cuts, but returned to the skies Monday, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

“Eielson’s restored flying hours allow our Aggressors to be in the air again,” Brig. Gen. Mark Kelly, the commander of the 354th Fighter Wing, said in a statement.

The squadron, along with about a third of the Air Force’s combat fleet, has had $208 million in funding restored by Congress. It was part of a $1.8 billion allocation authorized by Congress.

Kelly said the Aggressor squadron, grounded since April, will still fly at a reduced rate, but will concentrate on the Red Flag-Alaska training exercise set for Aug. 8-23.

“It’s important to get back to flying, but we recognize there’s a long road ahead to return air crews back to mission-ready status,” Kelly said. “We’re going to proceed deliberately and safely to get back on track.”

Eielson Air Force Base’s website says Red Flag-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercises for American forces.

It provides training in counter-air offensive maneuvers, interdiction and other training in a simulated combat environment.

Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation criticized the budget cuts, or sequestration. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the budget cuts failed to give federal agencies and the military flexibility to determine where cuts should be made.

Congress approved the allocation after the Air Force requested to reinstate critical training and test operations.

The allocation only funds missions for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1. Congress will have to provide additional allocations to restore funding in future years.

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