Iowa National Guard leaders are in a standby mode after the Air Force confirmed Tuesday a proposal to shut down the F-16 fighter wing in Des Moines.
The proposal would also create a unit in Des Moines that would fly unmanned aircraft, and would result in an overall loss of 378 soldiers.
The commander of the 132nd Fighter Wing, Colonel Drew DeHaes, says while the Air Force had formally confirmed the proposal, there’s a long road ahead. DeHaes says he has kept his message to the wing pretty much the same since the discussion started.
“One is to focus on the mission at hand. Two, control what you can control. And three, let the political process work, it’s going to take awhile for that to happen, so that’s been the message,” DeHaes says. DeHaes says this proposed change is a little like the change when the Sioux City unit switched from fighter aircraft to tankers.
“In response to the personnel impacts, I think it’s real similar to the 185th’s remissioning from F-16’s to the K-C 135 mission. That was actually, the state of Iowa we volunteered to remission that unit. The difference is this one has been an Air Force proposal,” DeHaes says. “I know that our congressional delegation has been actively involved in this announcement. And so it’s not something that we volunteered to do, it’s the Air Force has asked us to do, and has proposed that we transition to that mission.”
DeHaes says they now have to wait and see what their final orders will be. “Whatever the final outcome is…we’re in the United States Air Force we’re in the military and we salute smartly when given a mission. If that is the final disposition of this, as I said we will salute smartly and carry on the new mission.”
DeHaes says he believes the argument to keep the F-16’s in Des Moines is strong. He says the overarching argument for the Air National Guard to stay in fighters is cost and best value for the country. “Thirty-five-percent of the Air Forces’ missions are operated in the Air National Guard on six percent of the budget,” DeHaes says.
DeHaes says one of the factors that could have led to the proposal for the Iowa unit is that they don’t fly missions to protect U.S. airspace. DeHaes says, “There’s three guard units in the United States that don’t perform that mission, three F-16 units, that don’t perform that mission. And we are one of those three, just due to location, (it is) mostly along the coast, longer bigger cities. That was probably what kind of brought us at least a little up in the crosshairs.”
DeHaes says the soldiers in the 132nd could get jobs with the new unmanned unit, or possibly transfer to other F-16 units if the proposal moves forward. He says those decisions won’t be made until the budget is finalized and signed by the president.