After a two-year fight against an ill-conceived proposal to relocate the F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (J-BER) , “warm” the base and cut thousands of jobs, Alaska’s congressional delegation today received official word that the Air Force has scrapped the proposal.
During a conference call with the Alaska delegation Air Force senior leaders reported the strategic assessment of Eielson, conducted by General “Hawk” Carlisle, Commander of Pacific Air Forces, was complete and a decision made to keep the F-16s at Eielson.
U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Mark Begich and Congressman Don Young fought hard last year to secure a one-year delay of the proposal. They demanded that Air Force leadership explain why it made sense to downsize and warm Eielson as the focus of U.S. military strategy shifts to the Pacific region.
The delegation grilled Air Force officials during multiple congressional hearings and various office meetings in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Knowing a thorough analysis would prove the Air Force’s assumptions about cost savings from “warming” Eielson to be wrong, Alaska’s delegation demanded to see facts and continually stressed the strategic importance of Eielson. They made sure community members were involved in assessments since Alaskans have a keen understanding and appreciation of Eielson and the impact relocation would have on the community. The delegation also denounced the idea of the attempted backdoor Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in multiple pieces of legislation.
In August, Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh visited Eielson at the request of Murkowski, Begich and Young. After his visit he spoke publicly about Eielson’s advantage over other bases in the Pacific to host the new generation fighter. In September, General Carlisle spoke at the Air Force Association Annual Conference and indicated that the U.S. Air Force was committed to its current PACAF base positioning.
The Air Force is expected to announce the criteria for determining initial F-35 bases in the Pacific later this week.
“Alaskans love to love our Air Force, and I believe when thousands of us from Salcha to Mountain View came together against this move, they made their case and the Air Force took an appropriate, closer look at a proposal they now acknowledge was flawed and a proposal that was communicated poorly,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “Eielson’s supporters, in their red t-shirts came out first in February and again in August to make the compelling case at public hearings. On behalf of a grateful Alaska military family – and that includes every civilian supporter of our armed forces – I thank the Air Force for seeing the merit of our argument: that Alaska’s people and position make it a valuable – perhaps the most valuable – asset for emerging threats in the Pacific region, and that ‘America Needs Eielson.’ As the United States Air Force considers Eielson for F-35s and other new missions, I believe this is an indication of a successful case made by Alaska and the investment the Air Force envisions making in our state.”
“Today’s news marks a major victory in a hard-fought battle – including me putting a hold on a three star general - against an ill-conceived, half-baked proposal to move the F-16s. The announcement is fantastic news for the Fairbanks community and for our national security overall,” said Begich. “This proposal required serious, thoughtful research and I’m glad the Air Force finally did its homework and came to the conclusion that this move made no sense – just like it didn’t make sense in 2005 when the Air Force first proposed it. I look forward to securing Eielson’s future even further and working to bring new missions, like the F-35s, to the base so we can solidify Eielson’s future.”
“I would first like to thank the airmen who serve in the greatest Air Force in the world. The decision today is as much about them as it is about mission at Eielson Air Force Base. The announcement to keep the F-16s at Eielson is a victory for Alaska and a victory for the Air Force. Through this entire process, the Air Force has worked with Senators Murkowski, Begich, and myself, as well as an active and informed group of community leaders, to ensure that each and every ‘I’ was dotted and ‘T’ was crossed. We are happy to say that the process worked and I would like to thank the Air Force leadership for working closely with the Congressional Delegation to hear the concerns of the local community,” said Rep. Young. “In the future, as Alaska looks toward a possible stationing of the F-35, we hope to maintain our strong relationship with the Air Force. Alaska, with its location, its access to state-of-the-art training ranges, and its unmatched support for the military, really is the most strategic place in the world.”