On Thursday, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James will visit the home of the Idaho Air National Guard at Boise's Gowen Field. James will meet with Idaho’s congressional delegation in the morning, as well as Boise’s mayor and local business leaders. But we don’t know if she’ll make any announcements about the future of the Idaho Air National Guard.
That future is uncertain because of two money-saving ideas from the Pentagon.
The Idaho Air National Guard has used many different planes since it was created in the 1940s. The Guard started flying the A-10 Thunderbolt, also known as the Warthog, in the 1990s. It’s a relatively slow-moving, low-flying jet designed to support ground troops with its big guns. For performing that role, the A-10 has a lot of supporters among veterans of America’s recent wars.
But the Pentagon says newer planes can support ground troops and engage enemies in the air, so phasing out the A-10 will save money. Idaho Air National Guard spokesman Col. Tim Marsano says it’s not a matter of if, but when this 70s and 80s era plane will be grounded.
“While we maintain it and fly it to the very best of our capabilities -- and are ready to go overseas any time the Pentagon sends us -- we know the plane is eventually going to go away,” Marsano says. “The question is: what might follow it here at Gowen Field? And that’s the question that everyone’s grappling with right now.”
The 1,300 Idaho Air Guard members are grappling with that question because they don’t know what their mission will be when the A-10 is retired. If the Pentagon doesn’t give them a new mission, the very existence of this unit could be in question.
The other cost-cutting idea is moving the Idaho Air National Guard from Boise to the Mountain Home Air Force base. That’s something local Guard members don’t want to happen.
“We need a large, high density population in order to get the recruits that we need,” Marsano says. “For that reason, we’re not sure that the Air National Guard’s mission would be as sustainable in another, more rural part of the state.”
A city of Boise spokesman says Gowen Field represents an average of $212 million a year for the local economy. Keeping the Guard in Boise will no doubt be something Boise’s mayor will want to discuss with the Air Force Secretary during her visit this week.
Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam
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