Mar 29 2014

No simple moves

Published by at 7:17 am under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

The Obama Administration’s budget proposal will not be adopted as is by Congress; that much you can take to the bank. Many of the bits and pieces may survive though, and other parts may be adopted in some future year if not right away.

Given that, Idahoans have some reason to think about the possibility of moving its Air National Guard (ANG) from Boise to Mountain Home.

That’s separate from the proposal to eliminate A-10 warthog planes – the kind flown by the Idaho guard, a basic unit in the military’s air operations, but now the Department of Defense says should be superseded by more up to date models. (There’s a heated debate over this.) Apart from that, DOD suggests the Idaho air operations could be more usefully meshed with the substantial Air Force base at Mountain Home.

Long-time Guard spokesman Colonel Tim Marsano was quoted as saying, “We’re looking at the possibility of things happening where we would actually take some of our folks and move to Mountain Home and learn how to operate and maintain the F-15E Strike Eagle. And we know we would be welcomed there with open arms, should that happen.”

The idea may survive because there’s a logic to it. It also will not happen easily, because there are reasons for pushback.

Mountain Home, far from other communities in a large flat high Idaho desert, is a good spot for running military aircraft, one reason the base has survived since World War II. And there have been periodic complaints in Boise about military aircraft there, which are based on the south fringes of town near the municipal airport, and the noise they produce. A merging of aircraft training and other operations in one large site might have some efficiencies and lead to technical advances.

A lot of jobs – maybe 1,000 – could be involved in the transfer. But the Mountain Home AFB is only about 45 minutes in a straight shot on Interstate 84 from Boise, so commuting certainly is possible. (Many Mountain Home residents commute now.). And while the Boise economy might feel a ding, which in broad terms could amount to $100 million, Mountain Home’s might be greatly advantaged.

The city of Boise is pushing to keep the ANG, and it has a case too. Idaho’s National Guard also has an army component, and it and the air divisions traditionally have worked closely together, with a command structure that’s often been closely interwined. Much of that might survive a Mountain Home move, but it would be complicated by it. There’s concern too about recruitment to the ANG, which has been strong out of the Ada-Canyon population base but could be weakened if the operation were moved down the road.

And besides that, any large operation like the Idaho Air National Guard develops over time a network of vendors, contractors and others whose business and other operations are closely involved with the larger organization. That’s as true of a federal agency as it is of, say, a large corporation. Uprooting much of that could be as complicated as uprooting the guard itself.

An ANG move to Mountain Home, in sum, isn’t likely to happen soon. But it could resurface as a serious option down the road, and Idahoans have been given due notice: Give some careful thought to this, sooner rather than later.

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