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Senator Peters meets the troops at the 110th Attack Wing

April 1, 2015 -- Sen. Gary Peters met the troops April 1 at the 110th Attack Wing, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. The $3.4 billion opportunity for increased economic impact to the region from ballistic missile defense was of specific interest. He received briefings from the 110th Attack Wing commander Col. Ronald Wilson and the Fort Custer Training Center Post commander Lt. Col. Mark Gorzynski.
Numerous community leaders accompanied the senator during his tour of the base and overview of Fort Custer. He was shown developing capabilities for Remote Piloted Aircraft, Ballistic Missile Defense, and Domestic Disaster Response operational planning. Former U.S. Congressman Joe Schwartz, former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, Mayor Debbie Owens, Battle Creek Unlimited' s Jan Franz, Battle Creek's assistant city manager Ted Dearing and the Roosevelt Group's Chris Goode were prominent with their active support during the discussions.
Col. Kier Knapp outlined the excellent opportunities for Remote Piloted Aircraft to support Michigan's interests in addition to U.S. missions. "This aircraft is a little larger than an A-10, with a 66ft wingspan making it very stable; its ability to stay in the air for extended periods and excellent cameras are well suited to wildfire spotting, search & rescue for lost children or stranded hunters, and support of natural disasters."
He noted that such support is challenging due to current FAA regulations since the base does not have authorization for a "launch and recovery element" of personnel or any aircraft assigned to Battle Creek.
The 217th Air Operations Group commander Col. Sean Southworth explained that his command has the only forces within the Air Force assigned to U.S. Air Forces Africa. He indicated how his Air Operations Center and Contingency planners have steadily provided troops to support Europe and Africa; most recently in response to the Ebola threat. His command includes experts in over 90 different jobs, including logistics, infrastructure, communications, fire-protection, security, medical and air-traffic managers in addition to senior-pilot positions. His expansive command & control centers have been noted for their potential to support FEMA, in addition to their other missions. He noted that the pending cut of 50 personnel, eliminating the mobility squadron that is basic to controlling movement of people and equipment in such a vast area as Africa, is a significant challenge.
Wing commander Col. Ronald Wilson anticipated Peters' questions regarding manpower cuts and the lack of a full-time flight surgeon (a doctor specific to pilots). He showed that 37 percent of all Air Force cuts within the Air National Guard since fiscal year 2012 were from Michigan. He noted that there were 631 job cuts from Michigan, compared to 1,069 for all other states combined. He also elaborated on the challenges associated with being in 50th place for DoD employees, DoD payrolls and DoD dollars, with having lost all four of its active-duty Air Force bases and currently being in 47th place for Army and Air Force bases. Peters showed clear interest and resolve in correcting this situation. The senator was also provided an overview of work between the Merit Group, Battle Creek's 110th Attack Wing and Gov. Rick Snyder that established a pilot-program defending Michigan Business, Utilities and infrastructure from malicious cyber-attacks. Further, the program matches with Snyder's education incentives that resulted in the 110th partnering with WMU, CMU, KCC and Siena Heights. The Cyber-Defense mission, which started over a year ago, has already successfully defended Michigan interests.
Gorzynski provided Peters with an update regarding the Ballistic Missile Defense System and answered his associated questions. The system provides a way to intercept Missiles launched at the continental U.S. while they are still in space over the north-pole and without using an explosive war-head. The missile defense from Rogue nations shows clear advantages over the residual "Mutually Assured Destruction" method. Most notably, Battle Creek offers several noted advantages over the remaining contending sites, such as least overall cost (due to existing infrastructure) and thus least time to operational capability. Peters was interested in this Defense system and how Michigan is in position to best meet this Defense needs and return DoD jobs to Michigan.
"With its strategic location between Detroit and Chicago, accessibility to freeways, and Michigan's tradition of supporting our military and veterans, Fort Custer and its existing facilities would be an ideal location for the proposed missile defense system," said Senator Peters. "A missile defense system at Fort Custer would benefit both our national security and Michigan's economy, and I'm proud to support efforts to bring the defense system to this facility. I look forward to continue working with the Michigan Congressional delegation, state officials, and the Department of Defense to ensure the military sees the benefits Fort Custer would bring."
Gorzynski "stole the show" with his explanation of how the system provided a little under 300 full time high-tech military jobs, 500 to 700 construction jobs, and 1800 supporting civilian jobs within commuting distance of Battle Creek and an incredible $3.4 billion in economic impact.
"The 110th Attack Wing was encouraged by the support shown during Sen. Peters visit to Battle Creek's Air National Guard Base and Fort Custer" said Wilson. "He sees the challenges Michigan has in bringing DoD jobs back to Michigan in general and to Michigan Air and Army National Guards as part of our Michigan community. He clearly recognizes the value of Cyber-defense and Ballistic Missile Defense for Michigan citizens. Sen. Peters is very supportive for us gaining an RPA launch and recovery element, a cyber-defense squadron and the region's ballistic missile defense system."