04/10/13 — Air Force jets grounded

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Air Force jets grounded

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 10, 2013 1:46 PM

The sequester came home to Wayne County Tuesday as the Air Force announced it would begin standing down a third of its fighter jet fleet, including one of the F-15E Strike Eagle squadrons housed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

It had been widely speculated for the last several weeks that the 4th Fighter Wing's two operational fighter squadrons, the 335th Chiefs and 336th Rocketeers, would be hit hard when the branch reduced flying hours across the board to save money under the recent budget cuts forced upon them by the government-wide quagmire that began in March.

But it was not until late Tuesday evening that Air Combat Command's top officer, and, later, the 4th, made it official.

Maj. Amber Millerchip, the 4th's Public Affairs chief, said that the wing "implemented a tiered readiness concept for the active duty force by standing down one fighter squadron," that the squadron "was stood down so limited resources can be focused on units fulfilling the most critical missions and preparing to deploy in support of Overseas Contingency Operations, such as the mission in Afghanistan."

And ACC Commander Gen. Mike Hostage, the man charged with managing the flying-hour programs for four major commands, said the decision to stand down or curtail operations would affect about one-third of the active-duty "CAF aircraft" -- those assigned to fighter, bomber, aggressor and airborne warning and control squadrons -- stationed in the United States, Europe and the Pacific -- and acknowledged that such drastic measures are, quite simply, unprecedented and could weaken the nation's ability to respond to new threats as they emerge across the world.

"Historically, the Air Force has not operated under a tiered readiness construct because of the need to respond to any crisis within a matter of hours or days," he said. "The current situation means we're accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur.

"We're entering uncharted territory in terms of how we've had to take this year's cuts and make adjustments to mitigate the most serious impacts. Remaining as mission-ready as possible for combatant commanders is our priority, and we're prioritizing spending to ensure this imperative is met."

Training will continue, for those impacted by the stand down, in flight simulators and the classroom.

But not all the units on Seymour Johnson were hit equally hard.

A member of the 335th said the Chiefs took the worst of it because the wing's formal training units, the 333rd and 334th, need a particular number of flying hours to ensure the future aviators they are designed to train graduate and the 336th needs to continue flying as its members prepare for a fall deployment to an undisclosed location.

Millerchip would not yet confirm just which squadron had been stood down, but said a formal press release -- which will include comments from 4th Commander Col. Jeannie Leavitt -- would be disseminated to the media this afternoon.