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Air Guard downsizing grounded

June 27, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A proposal to reduce the number of C-130 transport planes at the local West Virginia Air National Guard base has been grounded, but officials predict the issue won't go away.

As long as the country is looking at ways to reduce defense spending, the 167th Airlift Wing will probably be facing proposals to reduce its size.

"I think we'll be fighting this thing every year," said Lt. Col. Roger Sencindiver of 167th, which is based at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport just south of Martinsburg.

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The U.S. Air Force was considering reducing the number of C-130s at five Air National Guard bases in the United States, including the local base, from 12 to eight, Sencindiver said.

The proposal was developed after military officials decided that they could fight in "major regional conflicts" with fewer C-130s, said Lt. Jesse Thomas of the 167th. An example of a major regional conflict was the Persian Gulf War, Thomas said.

But after a number of state and federal officials began opposing the cuts, including U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the proposal was put on hold, officials said. The Air Force has decided to delay the proposal until a major study designed to predict the military's needs into the 21st century is completed, said West Virginia Adjutant General Allen Tackett, who commands Air Guard operations in the state.

There is consideration of cutting some regular Air Force units, and that could increase the need for the C-130s, Tackett said.

The main duty of the 167th, which employs about 300 full-time and a little over 1,000 part-time workers, is to transport cargo and troops throughout the world. Troops from the local base are continuously making international trips to complete various missions, Sencindiver said.

Troops from the local base frequently fly to South America to give needed supplies to citizens or even drug intervention posts there, according to Sencindiver.

Officials say just because the nation is in peacetime doesn't mean the base is not busy with assignments.

"It didn't make much sense to take C-130s away when the commitment is going higher and higher," Sencindiver said.

Had the C-130 reduction plan been implemented, officials estimate that about 42 jobs would have been eliminated at the 167th, Thomas said.

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