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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
An A-10 Warthog is refueled by a Stratotanker during a drill Wednesday by the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Air Guard.

Air Guard could grow by 100 if cuts averted

– Fort Wayne’s Air National Guard base could add 100 active-duty airmen in coming years if it retains its fighter wing.

And it likely would replace its A-10 combat jets with the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the 2020s. But the base commander stressed Wednesday that the fate of the 122nd Fighter Wing is up to the Air Force and the next Congress.

Air Force officials “are working on a game plan – I don’t know what it is, OK? – on a way forward for this unit. … We really, really hope it is fighters in Fort Wayne,” Col. David Augustine said at the base’s Media Day.

Augustine said the 122nd Fighter Wing should know by spring, when Air Force leaders and federal lawmakers hash out budget proposals for fiscal year 2014, whether the Ferguson Road base will continue with its current mission.

He said he is encouraged in part because the Air Force’s new chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, supports “blending” active-duty personnel, Air Guard and Reserves.

“It’s nothing new; it’s already been started” at other bases, he said.

Augustine said the local base, where 1,200 people work in full- and part-time capacities, might add 100 active-duty airmen starting in 2014 as long as it remains a fighter wing.

The Air Force early this year recommended retiring the 20 combat jets at the south-side complex and replacing them with half as many propeller planes used for surveillance and gathering intelligence, a move that would have cut 152 jobs.

Those plans were scrapped when Congress rejected a nationwide realignment of air bases and voted to freeze aircraft assignments and funding through fiscal year 2013, which began Oct. 1.

“It put a pause on the schedule to allow for a lot of dialogue,” Augustine said.

The 122nd completed its conversion from F-16 jets to the A-10 in July.

“Our A-10s are 30-plus years old, so they are getting old. … But I tell you what, it’s a workhorse,” Augustine said about the plane, nicknamed the Warthog, which has been deployed to Afghanistan to provide close-air support to ground troops.

The costly F-35 is expected to replace the A-10 and the F-16. An Air Guard base in Vermont is scheduled to get F-35s in the early 2020s, and Augustine said the Fort Wayne base could follow suit.

“Whatever our elected officials decide to do, we as the United States military will follow,” Augustine said.

In the meantime, the 122nd Fighter Wing has begun a “recruiting blitz,” Augustine said. The goal is 122 new members in the next year.

The base also is preparing its Baer Field Heritage Park to open this year or next. It will display the various aircraft flown by the fighter wing since 1947.

An A-10 will be placed there Nov. 15.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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