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Keeping the “Flying Jennies” at Keesler: Air Force Lets Squadron Replace Personnel

WASHINGTON, D.C.–It’s a fight that’s been on for a while now to keep the 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and what happened this week was welcomed news. The Air Force has decided that the squadron can at least replace personnel who transfer out.

That decision came from DC and eases an earlier mandate from November that was made to help deactivate the squadron by not replacing those who left.

The Air Force and DC lawmakers have been talking about moving the 815th and its C130J aircraft, also known as the “Flying Jennies” from Biloxi and possibly relocating the whole unit to Little Rock.

It’s a move that’s not only not appreciated by the businesses that are supported by the squadron’s personnel, but is also been fought hard by Mississippi lawmakers.

Three of your lawmakers said the move to be able to replace personnel is a positive.

“I’m pleased the Air Force is creating an opportunity for the 815th to maintain personnel capacity.  Nevertheless, the Air Force has yet to provide a satisfactory cost analysis or justification for again targeting this squadron for deactivation,” said Sen. Thad Cochran, the vice chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  “We will continue to press the Defense Department until we are convinced that this plan makes sense from a budgetary and force structure perspective.  So far, that has not been demonstrated.”

“The Air Force has made the prudent decision to allow Keesler AFB the ability to hire and replace personnel,” said Sen. Roger Wicker.  “Filling vacant maintenance positions is critical to ensuring that the 403rd Wing is able to meet mission requirements.  As ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Airland, I will continue to fight the Air Force’s ill-conceived proposal to transfer the C-130Js from Keesler, which have served our military and the Gulf Coast well.”

“I am pleased to hear that the Air Force has thought better of their decision to further dismantle the 815th by not replacing the personnel.  Since the first announcement of these planes leaving was made in February of 2012, we have been fighting it at every turn.  It remains my sincere hope that the Air Force will see the error of their ways and commit to keeping the 815th and all their personnel at Keesler,” said Cong. Steven Palazzo.

In May, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that includes a Wicker provision that would prohibit any movement of aircraft until 60 days after the Air Force provides detailed written reports to Congress.  Additionally, the Air Force Comptroller General would be required to send a separate report to the Air Force on cost assessment 45 days after the original reports are received.  Although the proposed transfer of C-130Js is scheduled for this year, the committee expects the Air Force to comply with the provision until the FY2015 NDAA is enacted.

The Air Force previously proposed and then abandoned plans to move the “Flying Jennies” aircraft, first to Georgia and then to North Carolina, before proposing last fall to transfer the Keesler aircraft to the reactivated 913th Airlift Group in Arkansas.

As members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation, the three lawmakers have used their respective committee assignments to challenge the Air Force’s renewed plans to scuttle the 815th squadron.  Air Force officials have maintained that the move is necessary under the Total Force Plan to restructure Air Force assets and reduce the number of C-130 aircraft in its inventory.

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