Great Falls MANG base set to get new cargo plane mission

The Montana Air National Guard base in Great Falls is likely getting a new flying mission. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester announced the mission Friday at the Great Falls International Airport next to the base. The announcement would keep the Montana Guard flying after the expected loss of the base’s fighter planes—the F-15s. And it could prevent the loss of jobs.

The Great Falls Montana Air National Guard Base is now set to get 8 C-130H Cargo Planes. The H stands for Hercules–big versatile planes powered by four propellers.

“It’s a workhorse,” said Great Falls Mayor Michael Winters.

He thinks the planes are a great fit for Montana that could be used for the military or adapted to help fight fires. Overall, he’s just relieved to hear Air Force planes of any kind are coming to Great Falls  The base’s collection of F-15s are scheduled to move to a base in Fresno California around the middle of next year. And the Defense Department recently announced nearly $260 billion dollars in budget cuts.

“Other communities around the nation are losing their bases and missions and we’re picking this one up. It’s very very good for us,” Winters said.

The pentagon scrapped a smaller scheduled mission of C-27J planes for the base in these latest cuts. Senator Max Baucus said he’s happy with the way it all turned out. The C130 mission is bigger than the C-27J mission; Baucus said it should provide for about the same number of jobs as the F-15s. And the Air Force has been using this C130H model since the 60s. Baucus said it’s sticking around.

“There were some other suggested missions for Montana in the last couple three years. I always thought they were a little iffy, a little sketchy–didn’t sound very solid. This one is solid,” he said, adding the C130 mission is a result of years of teamwork among a number of parties like the community of Great Falls, the Montana Guard as well as Senator Jon Tester and Congressman Denny Rehberg.

But it’s not all a done deal yet. The project sits in President Obama’s Preliminary Budget. That has to move through Congress.

“We have to continue to fight and work together until those planes touch down the first quarter of 2014,” he said.

Congressional staff point out the mission has been approved by the Pentagon after the necessary budget cuts have been accounted for. And Tester said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has officially announced the mission himself.

 “It’s not an absolute certainty, very few things are, but this is about as close as we’re gonna get,” Tester said.

Congressman Denny Rehberg is also happy—yet he wants to take things a step further. Rehberg Spokesman Jed Link said it’s not too late to stop the F-15s from moving to California. Link said the F15s work well in Great Falls. The last thing the Air Force should do is swap missions there.

“What we should be doing is expanding that mission. So there’s no reason that we shouldn’t get the C-130s and keep the F15s that we already have,” Link said.

Montana National Guard Public Affairs Officer Major Tim Crowe says the servicemen and women of the 120th Fighter Wing stationed at the base take the C130 mission as seriously as any aircraft transition. But that comes later, he said. Until next year, the base still has the F15s.

“Our men and women, our airmen at the 120th fighter wing need to continue to stay focused on that mission and try not to look ahead at what that 130 mission will look like and how it will change our organization,” Crowe said.



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