In a meeting with Lieutenant General Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau and Lieutenant General Craig McKinley, Chief of the Air National Guard, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked for support in his efforts to secure a new flying mission for the 183rd Air Wing and maintain National Guard firefighters at Springfield's Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. A representative from Senator Barack Obama's (D-IL) office also attended today's meeting.
"Having a flying mission at the 183rd air wing will allow us to keep together the great flying team in Springfield," said Durbin. "I am also concerned about the potential loss of federal funding for the Springfield airport's firefighting team whose unique training is a valuable asset to the entire community. I am encouraged by the support I received from Lieutenant Generals Blum and McKinley and I will continue to make these issues a priority in Washington."
"The expertise and capabilities of the 183rd Air Wing and its firefighter unit in Springfield are unmatched," said Senator Obama. "These service members provide valuable support to our national security and readiness. I commend Senator Durbin for his leadership, and I will continue fighting to retain these capabilities for the security of Illinois and the nation."
The current Air National Guard mission involves F-16 aircraft which will begin leaving Springfield this month and be completely gone by October 1, 2008. Currently, the Air National Guard supports a more than 20-person fire fighting unit at Springfield that stands to lose its federal funding The transfer of these planes to Indiana was part of the national Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) which Durbin and members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation opposed.
In March, Durbin asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to direct the Air Force to deliver four C-21 planes to the Springfield Abraham Lincoln Capitol Airport by October 1, 2009. He also asked the Committee to develop a suitable flying mission for the 183rd Air Wing no later than October 1, 2010. The C-21 is a multiple use, tactical airlift aircraft that carries up to 8 passengers, small amounts of cargo, and is capable of transporting one litter or five ambulatory patients.