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Obama, Durbin Push to Help 183rd

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Obama, Durbin Push to Help 183rd

U.S. senators from Illinois are pushing the Pentagon to establish an Air Operations Center at Springfield's Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. The approval would mean more jobs for the 183rd Tactical Fighter Wing.

Under the senators' proposal, the operations center would give the Illinois Air National Guard a chance to plan missions for other Air Force units. These units would include other Air National Guard units, as well as active duty Air Force squadrons.

The center, according to Sen. Dick Durbin's office, would provide 68 full-time positions and 302 other positions that would be filled by traditional part-time Illinois Air National Guardsmen.

"We are very excited that we are being considered for this type of mission," said Lt. Col. Alicia Tate-Nadeau, director of public affairs for the Illinois National Guard.

The search for new missions for the Springfield base is in full swing because military officials previously have said the 183rd will lose its F-16 fighters in spring or summer of next year under a base realignment plan.

According to a press release issued by Durbin and Sen. Barack Obama, the two lawmakers have sent a letter to the secretary of the Air Force, asking that an Air Operations Center be established in Springfield. The letter also renewed their appeal that the 183rd retain a flying mission.

" ... We maintain our strong support for the retention of a flying mission for the Illinois Air Na-tional Guard at Capital Air Guard Base in Springfield," the letter states.

"This could either be retention of the 183rd Air Wing's fighter mission, or the assignment of other aircraft with funding and associated support architecture."

The letter continues, "We recognize the constraints on the defense budget, but it is essential the Illinois Air National Guard maintain a high level of capability and readiness to support both critical state and federal missions, including prosecuting the Global War on Terrorism, and Homeland Defense. We seek your support to address this oversight."

Tate-Nadeau said that if approved, the Springfield operations center would be one of several such facilities across the country. She added that it is not known if such a center would be housed in existing facilities, or if a new building would be needed.

The impact of the senators' request is unknown.

"It's really up to the big Air Force, since they make those decisions," Tate-Nadeau said.

Last year, the 183rd reported that it would begin operating a centralized repair facility for jet engines in 2008 or 2009. Plans for that mission have not changed.

John Reynolds can be reached at 788-1524 or john.reynolds

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