South Dakota Air National Guard vies for F-35 basing
By Mike Lynch
Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
The South Dakota Air National Guard (SDANG) at Joe Foss Field is a crucial asset for the city, state and nation. For 70 years, the Air Guard has established itself as one of the premier units in the country.
Medal of Honor recipient and Marine Ace Joe Foss was appointed to form an Air National Guard Squadron in Sioux Falls in 1946. Since then, the South Dakota unit has served a multitude of missions around the globe. Military and community leaders are collaborating to ensure a continued strong future for the guard by advocating to secure the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter.
Since 1991, the 175th Fighter Squadron of the 114th Fighter Wing has flown the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and currently there are 22 F-16 aircraft assigned. However, the most updated F-16, the Block 40, is projected to reach its shelf life sometime between 2027-30. The Lockheed Martin-designed F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter, considered by many to be the world´s most advanced multi-role aircraft, will ultimately replace both the F-16 and the close air support/anti-tank A-10 Thunderbolt. The F-35 will be used by the U.S. Air Force as well as the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.
For the SDANG to retain a fighter presence once the F-16 is decommissioned, it is currently in fierce competition with other Air Force bases – both active duty and Air National Guard – to secure the F-35. It is imperative to be on the front end of basing announcements to better assure the future of the 114th, especially if the F-35 program gets cut short, something that has happened to previous purchasing programs.
There are several important and timely steps to this selection process. In May 2016, the SDANG completed the data call related to the F-35 basing initiative, which was the process of verifying data related to items such as runways, facilities, airspace and ramp space. The SDANG is one of 18 bases across the country currently awaiting the site survey announcement, from which it is anticipated that approximately one-third of these will be selected as finalists by early fall. It is expected that by early 2017, the Air Force will indicate its plan to announce the next round of basing locations for the F-35 (likely two active duty, two Air National Guard and possibly two alternate basing locations). The Pentagon has announced four future F-35 bases to date. These include the Vermont Air National Guard in Burlington, Hill AFB in Utah, Eielson AFB in Alaska and RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. The F-35 aircraft is already being flown at Luke AFB in Arizona, Eglin AFB in Florida and MCAS Yuma in Arizona.
As the 114th is evaluated, challenges exist to secure the F-35s. These include a Defense Department budget that has the possibility of being cut, sequestration and competition with similar Guard units and continuing to provide dual support for both the SDANG and Ellsworth AFB near Rapid City. Over the past several years, the number of Air National Guard aircraft has decreased: in 2005, the number of Air National Guard aircraft across the U.S. totaled 1,310; today, that number has shrunk to 1,097.
Because of these challenges, it is crucial that the SDANG be positioned in the most favorable ways; the Sioux Falls Area of Commerce has historically and consistently championed the 114th´s profound viability and continues to do so.
In 2005, the SDANG and Ellsworth AFB had a high probability of being placed on the Base Re-alignment and Closure (BRAC) list. This process showcased the importance of the military to the state. At that time the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce developed its Military Task Force, which was created to ensure the viability of the South Dakota Air National Guard and its current mission as a fighter wing. A resolution was adopted in 2007 with a purpose of advocating for the future of Joe Foss Field, the South Dakota Air National Guard and other military units in the Sioux Falls area.
Members of the Task Force include the Chair of the Board of Directors and President/CEO from both the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Sioux Falls Development Foundation, the Chair of the Forward Sioux Falls Joint Venture Management Committee and at-large members. In addition, ex-officio (non-voting) members include the mayor of Sioux Falls, the chair of the Minnehaha County Commission, chair of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport Authority, state directors for South Dakota´s U.S. congressional delegation and chair of the Chamber´s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
Military Task Force Co-chair retired Brig. Gen. R.J. Clifft said the SDANG has several factors in its favor including the environment of the base, city amenities, strong reputation, awards, an absence of encroachment surrounding the airport, excellent facilities and support from airport personnel, political figures and community leaders.
"The South Dakota Air National Guard, with its high caliber of personnel, has proven itself to be one of the premier units in the U.S. This airplane isn´t only for the Air Guard and the local area, it´s for the benefit of the entire nation," Clifft said.
The Military Task Force remains a strong advocate on the SDANG´s behalf. In fall 2015, a Military Task Force F-35 Action Plan was put into place, with presentations given to South Dakota´s Congressional delegation, Gov. Dennis Daugaard and state legislators to apprise them of the importance to secure the F-35s at Joe Foss Field and to affirm their continued support.
In addition, briefings have been held with Mayor Mike Huether and members of the Sioux Falls City Council and in August the Task Force is scheduled to meet with both the Minnehaha and Lincoln County Commissions, as well as with the newly-elected members of the Sioux Falls City Council. Additionally, support letters for the 114th Fighter Wing basing have been sent to the Secretary of the Air Force, Secretary of Defense and the Air Force Chief of Staff.
During the 2016 South Dakota Legislative session, the State House and State Senate unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 1002, a show of support for the SDANG F-35 basing. In September, Chamber leadership and staff will travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with high-level military personnel and South Dakota´s congressional delegation to advocate on behalf of the selection of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Joe Foss Field.
The economic impact of the SDANG from FY2015 is profound, totaling $64.3 million, which includes a military payroll of $27.7 million, civilian payroll of $21.7 million, office and maintenance spending of $10 million and a total of $4.9 million in state and federal agreements. Approximately 1,035 Air Guard members are assigned to the 114th, which includes 355 full-time, nearly 50 state employees and 14 county personnel.
As it relates to employees, the economic impact extends beyond those who are full-time support personnel. With traditional guardsmen (those who serve one weekend per month and 15 annual tour days) numbering more than 600, area businesses have a vested interest in maintaining a strong SDANG presence.
One such business that understands the vitality of this is Citi, which recognizes the local and national importance of the Sioux Falls air base and also counts some of its more than 100 employees who are military veterans as members of the local Guard and Reserve.
"It is truly an honor to work day to day with the military veterans who are Citi employees," said Citi Site President Rick Nath. "Many still serve in the Guard or Reserve, balancing the many priorities of family, duty and career. The military qualities of teamwork and leadership training are embodied in not only the quality of work but in how they generously give of their time to help others in need."
Historically, the SDANG has been a highly-decorated unit, having attained its sixth Oak Leaf Cluster for the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award in 2015 and in 2014, the SDANG was awarded its fourth NGAUS Spaatz Trophy as the top Air National Guard Flying Unit. This display of excellence will surely be considered as the unit is evaluated.
Last month, thousands of people from the Sioux Falls area and region attended the Sioux Falls Airshow, "Power on the Prairie." The economic boon to Sioux Falls from this event is immense and paramount its overall success is the airshow host, the SDANG.
"There simply would not be an airshow without the Air Guard´s assistance," said retired Brig. Gen. Ron Mielke, TSP, Inc. Mielke is also co-chair of the Military Task Force and a co-chair of the Sioux Falls Airshow. "The dedicated men and women of the 114th provide incredible support and resources and work tirelessly to help make the show one of the best in the nation."
The SDANG´s preparedness is embedded in its mission "to deploy worldwide and execute directed tactical fighter sorties to destroy enemy forces, supplies, equipment, communications systems and installations with conventional weapons" though it has a broader and often overlooked responsibility as well.
When directed by the governor, the 114th is also tasked to "protect life and property, preserve peace, order and public safety." This was on full display when in May 2015, Gov. Dennis Daugaard activated 26 members of the SDANG´s Civil Engineer Squadron to aide in tornado recovery efforts in Delmont, S.D. Additionally, when residents along the Missouri River needed assistance to protect their homes against rising water in 2011, 548 SDANG and Army National Guard members were there to lend a hand filling sandbags to build berms.
Unwavering in its support among elected officials and countless other stakeholders, the highly decorated SDANG, with its dedicated personnel and enormous economic impact to the city, state and nation, appears to be well-positioned to provide a compelling argument for selection as a future F-35 base. The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce has been and will continue to be a staunch advocate to support this initiative, a perspective Mayor Mike Huether strongly echoed.
"We don´t take any aspect of serving our country when it comes to the Air National Guard in Sioux Falls for granted," Huether said. "Our pride rings true, but having the honor of hosting the F-35s would take it to one incredible level, and the role certainly will make a monumental economic impact as well."
Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
Military Task Force
Brig. Gen. (ret.) R.J. Clifft
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Ron Mielke, TSP, Inc.
Sioux Falls Development Foundation
Bender Commercial Real Estate Services
Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Chair of the Board
Ruth A. Christopherson
Prairie Winds Capital-RAIN
Sioux Falls Development Foundation Chair of the Board
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Matthew Jamison
Dr. Dave Kapaska
Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Phil Killey
Retired South Dakota Adjutant General;
Director Air National Guard; Commander First Air Force
Sioux Falls Regional Airport Authority
Nelson & Nelson, CPA´s LLP
Evan C. Nolte
Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
Maj. Gen. Timothy A. Reisch
Adjutant General/State of South Dakota
Forward Sioux Falls Joint Venture Management Committee Chair
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem
Minnehaha County Commission
Mayor Mike Huether
City of Sioux Falls
U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds
Sanford Health Plan
U.S. Sen. John Thune
Airway Service, Inc.
Chamber Military & Veterans Affairs Committee Chair
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