September 23, 2006 in City

Fairchild to lose 260 jobs by 2009

By and The Spokesman-Review
 

Fairchild Air Force Base will lose about 260 jobs as the Pentagon accelerates plans to trim 40,000 full-time Air Force positions by 2009.

The job losses will come from the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, which has more than 3,000 personnel at the West Plains base, said Capt. Jason McCree, a base public affairs officer.

It was unknown Friday whether other units on base, including the 336th Training Group at the Survival School, would be similarly affected by cuts ordered throughout the Air Force.

The overall reduction in personnel has been known for some time, but until new orders this week, those cuts were expected to take effect by 2011.

“We have known these cuts were coming,” said Maj. David Stenglein, of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, adding that the news of reductions has had “no immediate effect on base morale.”

He said that although the number of Air Force personnel has remained steady, personnel costs have risen 51 percent in recent years.

As in the civilian sector, the Air Force has been burdened by the rising cost of health care for its employees. The ongoing cost of the U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan also has consumed military resources.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris, a first-term Republican who is on the House Armed Services Committee, has received no official word from the base, the Air Force or the Defense Department on cuts at Fairchild, a spokeswoman said.

It was unclear how many jobs will be reduced by attrition as personnel retire, and whether people will have the opportunity to move to other jobs at the base or within the Air Force, McMorris spokeswoman Jill Strait said.

“We’re still looking for details,” said Strait, who added it seems unusual that the Pentagon did not notify members of Congress about cuts in their districts.

McMorris’ opponent, Democrat Peter Goldmark, said he was concerned about the effects of the cuts on local families, the economy and national security.

“My opponent is a member of the Armed Services Committee, and I must ask why she hasn’t been protecting Fairchild?” he said in a prepared statement.

McMorris currently has a television commercial that says one of the accomplishments of her first term was that she “helped save and expand Fairchild.” Strait said that statement is based on work when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was studying military installations around the country. In that process, the active duty Air Force operations at Fairchild faced few changes.

The ad is still correct, Strait said: “Her priority is still protecting and expanding the mission of Fairchild.”

Alex Glass, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said not much is known yet about the Air Force’s move to cut 40,000 people by 2009 – known as “force shaping” – or how it will affect individual bases. Anyone asked to leave will receive an honorable discharge and benefits, she said.

Rich Hadley, president and chief executive officer of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the cuts could come over the same period that the base is preparing for a new tanker that will replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of KC-135s. The Spokane area is also seeking new missions for Fairchild that could bring more personnel, he said.

Because of that, it’s impossible to say whether there will be more or fewer people at the base at the end of three years, Hadley said.

Spokane has also formed an “aerospace consortium” as a way to expand aviation business in the region. Hadley said it should consider the people who are leaving the Air Force from Fairchild as a potential resource for those businesses.

“Our goal ought to be, ‘How do we keep those people in the community?’ ” Hadley said.

Budget concerns aside, Stenglein said the Air Force has been looking for ways to modernize and become “more agile.”

The first personnel cuts will come in October 2007 and continue through 2009. He said the Air Force identified jobs to be cut, not individuals. Reductions would first come through attrition and then through programs to encourage voluntary retirement.

Only then will there be “involuntary separations,” Stenglein said.

“This is not something we look forward to doing,” the major said. “We have a number of qualified personnel that have contributed greatly to the global war on terrorism and to the country.”

Fairchild has a “robust transition program” available to airmen and their families to help them enter civilian life, Stenglein said. “With the quality and caliber of airmen we have in the Air Force today, I don’t anticipate that they will have problems.”

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