Feinstein in the News

Following discussions that spanned several weeks, the military has rejected the idea of dismantling the Air National Guard’s 144th wing, which keeps two F-16 fighter jets at March Air Reserve Base, a guard official said Tuesday.

Although recent budget cut proposals raised questions about the continued existence of the wing, it will continue to operate and, as planned, will exchange its F-16s for F-15s beginning later this year.

Last week, California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calling attention to discussions of shutting the 144th and using personnel and aircraft from other states to fulfill its mission.

“We strongly oppose any effort to eliminate the 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno and any delays to the transfer of F-15s to Fresno,” the letter said. Among other things, the senators wrote, the loss of the wing would “increase risks to Homeland Defense.”

The 144th responds to emergency and security calls, including international smuggling, from the Mexican border to Oregon. The F-15s’ radar systems are better suited to the mission, according to the military.

Col. Nate Reddicks, deputy adjunct general for the California Air National Guard, said the fate of the 144th became an issue when the new budget proposal failed to provide replacement aircraft for the F-15s that were to be transferred from the Montana Air National Guard.

Montana officials were concerned about the viability of their own program, Reddicks said, and began suggesting changes, such as taking over the March-run component, which covers Southern California. The 144th also had a blemish on its record. The previous command of the wing had come under fire for inadequate overtime pay for its personnel.

Reddicks said the senators “were correct to get involved. Discussions were being had. The time line probably reaches back two to three weeks.”

The issues have been resolved, he said, and the wing will get its new planes starting in August and continue to operate.

“Right now,” he said, “the 144th is a going forward. The 144th is transferring out of the F-16 to the F-15, and we expect to be fully operational next year.”