The White House has promised to find a new mission for an Air National Guard wing in election battleground-state Ohio that is faced with losing its fleet of brand-new transport aircraft being yanked by the Pentagon.
"As part of national security strategy, the president has supported cuts," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One as it landed at the threatened guard base in Mansfield, Ohio. "There is a redundancy in terms of the aircraft that this National Guard air base is home to, but the president is committed to finding another mission for the National Guard unit at this particular air base."
With the war winding down, the pentagon decided last winter that the small C-27J transports flown by the Ohio Air Guard in Afghanistan are not cost effective and older C-130s will be used instead. The 179th Airlift Wing fears the potential effect on more than 200 full-time airmen and more than 500 part-time employees at Mansfield Lahm field.
Earlier in the week, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio warned against ending the mission in Mansfield, criticizing the Democratic administration's proposed cuts. Portman is considered high on a list of possible vice presidential picks to enhance Republican chances of carrying the state.
Ohio's other Senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, has also lobbied both the president by letter and Vice President Joe Biden by phone to keep the C-27Js at the guard base in Mansfield, his hometown. But in an apparent acknowledgement the cause is already lost, Brown issued a statement today praising the White House commitment to help the 179th Air wing.
"While the proposed elimination of the C-27J is concerning, " Brown wrote, "the news of a follow-on mission is very encouraging. As budgets tighten, we must work to get new missions and expand the ones we have, so we insulate ourselves from any future threats of closure. This is about helping the base to continue to contribute to the local economy."
Several of the transports were parked just across the tarmac as President Obama stepped off Air Force One to shake the hands of three men in uniform, including Col. Gary McCue, 179th Airlift Wing commander. It was unclear whether they pressed the president on the issue.
A base closings commission recommended shutting down Mansfield Lahm several years ago but local efforts to save the base then were successful.