Eielson to stay open but lose 18 jets, 600 troops

Posted: Friday, November 11, 2005

FAIRBANKS - A plan to remove all 18 A-10 jets and about 600 military personnel from Eielson Air Force Base became final this week after Congress let the recommendations of a base review commission become law.

The base will be left with about 2,500 military personnel and 18 F-16 jets, according to a statement from the Eielson Air Force Base public affairs office.

"As of now there are no hard dates for the A-10s' departure and no official word on what kind of economic impact this will have," the statement says. "There is still a lot of planning in the works and these numbers don't reflect possible additions or future plans for Eielson."

In addition to the Eielson changes, the Air Force facility at Galena, a village on the Yukon River 270 miles west of Fairbanks, will be closed.

And at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, 42 of the 60 F-15 fighters will move out of state.

The changes will begin within two years and be complete within six, under the plan approved by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in late August.

President Bush on Sept. 15 forwarded the commission's plan to Congress, which had 45 days to reject it. In the absence of any congressional action, the plan went into effect Wednesday.

Eielson dodged much deeper cuts proposed by the U.S. Air Force in May when the Department of Defense gave its base closure recommendations to the closure commission.

The Air Force wanted to remove most of Eielson's personnel and all permanently assigned jets. The base would have functioned as an expanded host site for training exercises eight or nine months a year.

The Fairbanks-based Save Eielson committee and Alaska's congressional delegation, which opposed the Air Force plan in testimony to the commission and raised questions throughout the summer, welcomed the final BRAC decision in August as a partial victory.

The plan will keep the base fully functioning all year, greatly reduce the job losses and maintain strategic jets in Alaska, they said.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, in particular, had defended Eielson A-10s as strategically important, due to their proximity to Asia.

Air Force officials, in response to such arguments, said they had "specifically reviewed and considered the impact upon a possible conflict in Asia ... and assessed a minimal impact."

In the end, cuts at Elmendorf were much more substantial than those at Eielson. The Air Force estimated net job losses there at 934 due to the exiting fighters.

Stevens and others are not so worried about impacts on Anchorage because the Air Force plans, independently of the BRAC process, to supply Elmendorf with new aircraft in the next few years.

Those include up to 48 new FA-22 fighters and eight C-17 transport jets, according to information from Maj. James Law, director of public affairs for the Alaskan Command at Elmendorf.

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