Commission report recommendations jeopardize 1,100 jobs at Robins

wcrenshaw@macon.comJanuary 31, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- Recommendations of a special commission on restructuring the Air Force put about 1,100 jobs at Robins Air Force Base in jeopardy.

The report by the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force calls for eliminating the Air Force Reserve Command, which is based at Robins. The command employs about 1,100 people, said Col. Rob Palmer, the unit’s director of public affairs.

He emphasized that the recommendation still must be approved by Congress.

According to the 21st Century Partnership, which advocates for Robins, the command has a $150 million annual payroll and an annual economic impact of about $250 million.

If the recommendations are implemented, the Air Force Reserve would continue to exist, but its units would fall under the command of the active-duty Air Force. The report states it would be a more efficient way to operate and would save money. It also states the recommendations should be followed even in the absence of budget constraints.

In general, the report emphasizes a need to shift more responsibility to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. Part-time airmen could do many tasks at a lower cost than active-duty Air Force, the report states. It also recommends blending Guard and Reserve units with active-duty forces.

“These recommendations will lower overall military personnel costs, and they will produce a more ready and capable force by preserving funds for operations, maintenance, procurement, and recapitalization,” the report states.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, who leads the 21st Century Partnership, said he agrees with many of the recommendations, particularly those that put more emphasis on the role of the Guard and Reserve.

Eliminating the Air Force Reserve Command, however, is a bad idea, McMahon said.

The partnership works to protect jobs at Robins, but McMahon said there is a good argument that keeping the command is best for the Air Force. At one time, McMahon said, the Air Force Reserve essentially operated in the way the recommendations propose.

But in 1968, he said, the Reserve was given administrative responsibility over itself. It 1997, it was created as a separate command.

Those moves were made, he said, because the previous way wasn’t working. The Reserve, McMahon said, has done nothing but improve and become more combat ready as it was given more autonomy.

“When we want to rely even more heavily on our Reserve forces in the future, why would you eliminate the structure that has helped us get to where we are today?” he asked. “From what I read in the report, I saw nothing to justify that that environment has changed.”

In an emailed statement, 8th District U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican from Ashburn, also questioned the recommendation to eliminate the command.

“The commission’s analysis ignores the rationale behind the AFRC creation, and their recommendation would lead to a more costly and less efficient structure for the Air Force,” he said in the statement.

He also criticized the commission for making the decision without visiting Robins, but the commission did visit Hawaii, which he said is “a location far less critical to their work.”

“The commission’s report lacks sound logic and is not supported by thorough analysis,” Scott said. “I will use my position on the House Armed Services Committee to point out the flaws in the report and to oppose their recommendation.”

In public hearings held by the commission over the past few months, it was clear the recommendations could lean toward a greater role for the Guard and Reserve. The recommendation to do away with command, however, came as a surprise to McMahon.

The fact that the issue wasn’t publicly discussed led McMahon to question whether it was “fully vetted” by the commission.

In an emailed statement, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Moultrie, also said he would oppose eliminating the command.

“I believe dissolving the Air Force Reserve Command would neither increase efficiency nor enhance readiness,” he said. “While I would support logical recommendations related to our military regardless of location, the fact remains that we have spent the past 50 years perfecting the command structure of our Air Force reservists, who have been activated over the last decade with unparalleled frequency. The need for a command structure of its own is more important now than ever.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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