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Freeze on aircraft moves puts airmen in limbo

Oct. 9, 2012 - 10:09AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 9, 2012 - 10:09AM  |  
An F-22 flies over Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
An F-22 flies over Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. ()
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The Air Force has temporarily frozen aircraft moves, and it is not clear yet how thousands of airmen will be affected — or for how long.

The six-month continuing resolution that went into effect when fiscal 2013 began Oct. 1 kept the government open, but appropriators denied the Air Force money to retire, divest, realign or transfer aircraft, or disestablish or convert any Air National Guard or Reserve units. The restrictive language that Congress approved means that any planes that didn't take off at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 30 are stuck where they are, and that means the jobs that come with them might be stuck as well.

The Air Force was unable to provide information on how many airmen, aircraft and units are affected by the freeze.

"The continuing resolution introduced new complexity into our force-structure planning process," Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. "We're working through the impacts right now."

Congress had already blocked the Air Force's proposed fiscal 2013 aircraft moves and retirements, with legislation supported in both the House and Senate that blocks all aircraft cuts. But the continuing resolution goes even further: It blocks aircraft moves approved in the fiscal 2010, 2011 and 2012 budgets because they were to be paid for with money from the fiscal 2013 budget.

The freeze is coming at a terrible time for the Defense Department, as the government heads toward possible sequestration, said Douglas Birkey, the head of government relations for the Air Force Association.

"The bottom line is this is leading to incredibly inefficient fleet management and personnel management at a time when the service can't afford it," he said.

In a June letter to the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he had directed the Air Force to hold all cuts in fiscal 2012 with the expectation that Congress would complete action on the fiscal 2013 budget before Oct. 1, which didn't happen. Instead, Congress passed the continuing resolution before leaving Washington for elections. The continuing resolution holds the budget for federal agencies at 2012 levels.

In the letter, Panetta wrote that approximately 150 aircraft were scheduled to be transferred, and 98 more were scheduled to be retired.

It is unlikely that any movement in Congress will happen until early next year, Birkey said.

Still, some base changes are already moving forward, even if the mission hasn't arrived, according to the Air Force.

On Oct. 1, the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., held a ceremony to mark the realignment of the base from Air Education and Training Command to Air Combat Command. The base is set to receive a combat-coded F-22 squadron, a T-38 Talon detachment and more than 1,000 more airmen from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., in a move announced in 2010. Raptors have been flying at Tyndall for training since 2004.

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