Military Spending Cuts Trickling Down To Otis Air National Guard Base
By: Diana T. Barth
Agreements made by US legislators in conjunction with last year’s decision to raise the country’s debt ceiling may soon be directly impacting Otis Air National Guard Base.
As part of those debt ceiling negotiations, the Department of Defense agreed to cut close to $500 billion from its budget over the next 10 years.
The US Air Force, which released its proposed Fiscal Year 2013 manpower adjustments, translated its part of those spending cuts into proposed job cuts, including the elimination of some 174 positions at Otis.
Nationally, the Air Force is planning a net reduction in force of 3,900 active duty, 5,100 Air National Guard, and 900 Air Force reserve positions.
If one counts active, reserve, and national guard billets, both military and civilian, filled and unfilled, more than 350 of those jobs are in Massachusetts, Otis’s cuts among them.
While the US Air Force’s proposal would be a 3 percent, Air Force-related job cut for the commonwealth, the majority of those cuts will affect Otis and the 102nd Intelligence Wing’s Air Operations Group.
The Air Operations Group was established in 2009 in the wake of the recommendations of a 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Its creation was part of the 102nd Fighter Wing’s transition into an intelligence wing. Started as a joint command and control operation with a base in Louisiana, it was the first of two new missions undertaken by the base, the other being an intelligence mission.
Eight of the proposed cuts would be to active Guard jobs, 31 would be technical and civilian positions, and 135, Air National Guard jobs. Most of the cuts were to part-time billets. Those positions, as proposed, would be eliminated come October.
Lieutenant Colonel James Sahady, public affairs officer for the Massachusetts National Guard, said the reductions would not change the Intelligence Wing’s mission, saying that he expected the Intelligence Group, with its diverse capabilities, could pick up the operation group’s responsibilities, or any other mission the Air Force tasked it to do.
Overall, Col. Sahady said, the National Guard is responsible for 35 percent of the US Air Force mission, and performs its duties at 6 percent of the cost that would be incurred by the active forces.
He emphasized that the Wing was performing real-time missions 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and was expected to continue to do so.
Col. Sahady said some reductions in force and cost-cutting were inevitable, and noted that some 20 medical personnel were being added as part of a newly created Homeland Reserve Force. The National Guard, he said, has a dual mission, responsible to the state as well as the federal, government.
The other proposed cuts involve positions at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, and Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee.
Massachusetts Lt. Governor Timothy Murray has been closely tracking the proposed DoD cuts since January, his staff said.
On February 3, he launched a tour of the state’s military bases, hoping “to build grassroots support to protect the missions, jobs and economic investments associated with those bases.”
Last month, given talk of the possible establishment of a new BRAC commission, he also established a task force to look at the operations and missions of the bases.
Mr. Murray said this week that no other New England state is as organized as Massachusetts, and that the new task force would also work with the state’s congressional delegation and partners in the defense industries to fight any “detrimental base realignment proposals,” were they to be put forward.
The importance of that task force escalated with the US Air Force’s announcement this week, said Lauren Jones, a spokesman for the lieutenant governor’s office.
Mr. Murray has already visited Hanscom and Barnes, is scheduled to visit Westover and Chicopee next Thursday, and will visit the state’s other bases, including Otis, in April.
Ms. Jones said the tour would include discussion of the base’s mission and operation, as well as a roundtable discussion of the possible impact of the proposed cuts that is expected to include officials from the towns surrounding the base.
Members of the base’s Military-Civilian Community Council, who have been asked to become the policy committee for an updated Joint Land Use Study involving the base and the four towns that surround it, have already been informed of that upcoming visit.