Leaders at Robins Air Force Base are seeking a broader exemption of the federal hiring freeze that they say is affecting crucial operations.
The base has already gotten an exemption for its largest unit, the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, which does heavy maintenance on aircraft. But leaders say that unit relies on many other supporting units on base that are still under the hiring freeze, impacting hundreds of vacant positions.
Col. Jeff King, commander of the 78th Air Base Wing and the installation commander, said at the annual State of Base luncheon Tuesday that the base is asking for more units to be exempt from the freeze.
“We are going back now and re-emphasizing that it takes many units across the installation to support the ALC and keep it successful,” King said.
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He specifically mentioned the Defense Logistics Agency, which supplies parts and equipment not only to the maintenance area at Robins but to military units around the world. He also talked about those who work in the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, which manages the aircraft maintained at Robins and also provides worldwide support of aircraft.
Finally he talked about his own unit, the 78th Air Base Wing, which provides the services that would come from a city, including firefighters and security personnel, as well as those who repair buildings and roads.
“We have submitted waivers for many organizations across the base,” he said. “We are putting our weight behind it and doing everything we can.”
During a question-and-answer portion of the event, someone asked about a solar energy system that had been planned at the base. The base cleared a tract of land on the south end for a solar system, but King said the project fell through after the contractor that was supposed to build it failed to meet obligations to Georgia Power Co.
However, he said discussions are underway about a possible solar farm north of the base, on land the state has bought to reduce housing in an area considered at risk for aircraft crashes and noise. In speaking to reporters afterward, King emphasized that is in a preliminary stage and it hasn’t been determined whether it will be technologically feasible. One issue being examined is how reflection from panels might impact aircraft.
Brig. Gen. John Kubinec, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, noted that for the second year in a row the unit has been named the Air Force’s best maintenance depot. He said worker’s compensation claims are at a 15-year low.
“The state of the ALC is good,” he said. “Halfway through this year we are right on target with where we want to be. We are doing the nation’s work.”
But he gave a frank assessment of the overall state of the Air Force.
“Our Air Force right now is the smallest it’s ever been,” he said. “Our fleet is the oldest it’s ever been. You can argue we are the least ready we have ever been in the United States Air Force. The Air Force and the country needs the work that the Air Logistics Complex produces now and into the future, more than ever. Let there be no doubt that the Air Logistics Complex is a vital cog in our nation’s defense.”
However, he took a more optimistic tone later when asked about those comments by an audience member.
“Let there be no doubt, your Air Force is ready to fight tonight and defend our country,” he said. “We are still and we will remain the greatest Air Force on this planet.”
The luncheon is held each year by the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce to give community members a chance to hear directly from base and leaders and ask questions.