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Peoria Journal Star May 14, 2005

Hercules to Peoria's rescue

By Andy Kravetz

PEORIA - It was the best-case scenario Friday for members of the 182nd Airlift Wing as the Defense Department announced the Illinois Air National Guard unit will gain - not lose - jobs as part of a national base restructuring plan.

Peoria's Air Guard unit will grow by 34 jobs and four planes while Springfield's 183rd Fighter Wing unit stands to lose 163 jobs and all 15 of its F-16 Fighting Falcons.

The four C-130H Hercules cargo planes coming to Peoria and the accompanying jobs are from the 118th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard based at Nashville International Airport.

Former 182nd member retired Lt. Col. Michael Meehan said the decision shows the importance of the Peoria unit.

"By anyway you want to measure - inspections, the ability to respond to real-world situations - the unit has maintained an ability to prosper," he said.

Springfield's F-16s are going to an Air

Guard unit in Fort Wayne, Ind. As a small consolation, the Air Force plans to consolidate some of its engine repair facilities in Springfield.

No one at Peoria's air base would comment. Stacey Rieger, a Guard spokeswoman, would only say, "The information is just coming out today, and we are going to have to assess it and its impact in Illinois."

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood cited the acquisition of nine new C-130s, which replaced aging older models, as a key reason for Peoria's success. Earlier this year, the 182nd got the first of nine "H" models that will replace their older "E" planes.

"Two years ago, we made the conscious decision to try to upgrade our C-130s," he said. "I think that sent the message that we had the right people to do the job."

The C-130 is the Air Force's workhorse, undertaking missions that vary from firefighting to cargo transport. Designed in the late 1950s and entering production soon after, the plane has been a mainstay for the Airlift Mobility Command, based at Scott Air Force Base near Belleville.

John Pike, a defense analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, a nonpartisan defense and research organization based in Alexandria, Va., said Peoria stands to be a big winner if the recommendations are approved.

"When it comes to (the number of airplanes), single digits is normal - double digits is pretty good," Pike said of Guard units.

He said the Pentagon's list showed a trend toward fewer larger bases.

"Clearly, what they are doing with the Army reserve component is closing smaller facilities so they will have a smaller number of larger ones. From what I can tell, it sounds like they are doing the same with the Air Guard, as well," Pike said.

The 182nd, at Greater Peoria Regional Airport, employs about 300 people full time and more than 900 part time.

Copyright 2005, Peoria Journal Star, Inc.