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Wing would remain viable under restructuring proposal

Colonel Vautrain

Col. Steven D. Vautrain, 439th Airlift Wing Commander

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- By now you are aware that Air Force officials have announced a proposal to cut eight aircraft from the 439th Airlift Wing's C-5 fleet in 2016. This is a result of planned Pentagon budget cuts. The Air Force is refocusing and reducing the size of its forces to comply with the president's new defense strategy and the Budget Control Act's requirements to cut $487 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years.

I'd like to quell any rumors up front. First, the "proposal" is exactly that - a proposal, basically a request for Congress to consider. For the cuts to take effect, Congress would need to approve the proposal, and if the president agreed, he would have to sign the authorization before it became law.

So the proposal has been made, but we're still a long way from 2016, and a lot could happen between now and then.

This isn't the first time Westover has weathered change. The base was an active duty asset from 1940-1974. It became the nation's first stand-alone Air Reserve Base in April 1974. Since 1974 aircraft assigned to the 439th have changed from C-123s to C-130s, and finally to C-5s. During the last Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in 2005 Westover's mission actually expanded. Joint partners from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps Reserves moved on base with the 439 AW as their host.

As of now, during this round of restructuring, we've received the "iron-only" notification. The proposal is to cut our fleet of 16 C-5s in half. But in the announcement, the Pentagon news release said explicitly that our unit "remains operational."

Other wings didn't fare as well. Under the proposal, Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station is due to close. Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station will be transferred from the Air Force Reserve to the Air National Guard. The 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base will remain operational but will lose 10 C-130J aircraft to another location.

Air Force-wide, the proposal affects 60 installations in 33 states and about 227 aircraft.

If the proposal goes through, and that's a big "if," the Westover workforce will become smaller. No doubt, the proposed changes will have an impact on the base, but we will remain a viable part of the Reserve, an essential East-Coast reserve mobility hub, and an indispensable part of the Western Massachusetts community.

We are and we will continue to be committed to fulfilling our global mobility mission, regardless of the outcome of this budget and restructuring proposal. We will continue to be the Patriot Wing, and we will continue to be "Leaders in Excellence."