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Congress OK’s LoBiondo-Written Language to Protect 177th, Give Legal Aid to CG Reservists

 

By Herald Staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-2nd), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, in a release, applauded passage of H.R. 2647, the “Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act,” which included a 3.4-percent pay increase for servicemen and women and two provisions authored by LoBiondo.
LoBiondo offered an amendment to protect the viability of the 177th Fighter Wing out of Egg Harbor Township during the House Armed Services Committee mark-up of the legislation in June. Currently, Air National Guard units, such as the 177th Fighter Wing, operate older versions of fighter aircraft operated by the Air Force.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Obama Administration have recommended moving forward with accelerated procurement of advanced aircraft F-35s for the Air Force. However, this procurement schedule would create a sizeable gap (in terms of years) in which aircraft will be unavailable for Air National Guard units, thus shuttering those units.
Additionally, the older planes are more expensive to maintain. LoBiondo’s language directs Gates to submit to the House Armed Services Committee, within 90 days, a report on the procurement of 4.5 generation fighter aircraft – advanced versions of current fighters- to avoid an expected fighter gap.
“The Air National Guard conducts the majority of domestic homeland defense air missions, known as air sovereignty alert operations. Fully armed fighter aircraft are on alert 24 hours a day at 18 sites across the country. The fighter gap threatens the long term viability of the 177th Fighter Wing specifically and the security of South Jersey and the region,” said LoBiondo. “Quite simply, once the planes go away, the mission goes away; once the mission goes away, the people with their experience and technical experience go away. I want to ensure the Air Force and the Defense Department has an adequate plan that will not jeopardize the missions and livelihood of the 177th Fighter Wing.”
LoBiondo had previously requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the fighter gap issue.
According to the GAO report, 11 of the 18 Air National Guard sites could end up without viable aircraft by 2020 if the planes are not replaced over the next few years. Meanwhile, 14 of the 18 sites will have to suspend their operations for a period of time between 2010 and 2020, as their aircraft reach the end of their useful service lives.
Twelve sites, including the 177th Fighter Wing, are currently equipped with F-16 fighters which will reach the end of their service lives between 2015 and 2020. LoBiondo continues to have meetings with high ranking officials within the Department of Defense, including the Director of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Craig McKinley and Director of the Air National Guard Gen. Harry “Bud” Wyatt, about this issue.
During the House floor debate on the “Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act” in June, LoBiondo offered an amendment to the bill to ensure equal benefits across the uniform services.
Current law provides legal assistance to active duty members of the Armed Forces and Coast Guard, as well as Department of Defense reservists and their dependents.
However, the law does not authorize the same legal assistance to Coast Guard Reservists. This legal assistance provides critical aid to reservists returning from active duty by helping them understand what their re-employment rights are and by giving them free, professional advice on housing, consumer, tax and probate laws.
LoBiondo’s amendment authorizes legal assistance to Coast Guard Reservists and their dependents. LoBiondo’s amendment was accepted to the House version and maintained in the final bill.
The “Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act” is expected to be approved by the Senate next week and sent to the President for his signature.

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