Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says the Pentagon should be relying more, not less, on the National Guard. The Democrat, in a conference call with reporters today, criticized the Air Force’s recommendation to shut down part of the 132nd Fighter Wing — an Iowa Air National Guard unit based in Des Moines.

“Air National Guard units such as the 132nd are far more cost-effective and often more experienced than active duty Air Force units,” Harkin said. “Air National Guard units provide 35-percent of the Air Force’s capability for just six-percent of the budget.” The Air Force proposal released this week would eliminate 21 F-16 fighter jets in Iowa and replace them with unmanned aircraft.

The move would also eliminate the need for 378 soldiers. Harkin noted that Congress will have the final word on the matter. “As a senior member of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Defense, I will be working with the rest of the Iowa congressional delegation to more fully question and get to the bottom of why the Air Force is focusing on this one unit,” Harkin said.

The commander of the 132nd fighter wing, Colonel Drew DeHaes, said Wednesday that 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. Harkin said he believes Air Force officials are focusing on National Guard units like the 132nd because they’re afraid of making cuts to “regular” military ranks.

“I mean, how does a colonel get his first star? How does a one-star get two stars and three stars? It’s not because of what they’re doing in the National Guard. It’s what they’re doing in the standing Army and standing Air Force,” Harkin said. “They don’t want to lose their bases. They don’t want to lose the personnel they have jurisdiction over. That’s the way they go up the ranks.”