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Guard unit at McConnell Air Force Base to be sliced by nearly one-third

The 184th Intelligence Wing is expected to lose 159 of its 552 full-time positions, or nearly 30 percent, by the end of the next fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2015, Wing Commander Col. Jeffry Jordan said.
The 184th Intelligence Wing is expected to lose 159 of its 552 full-time positions, or nearly 30 percent, by the end of the next fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2015, Wing Commander Col. Jeffry Jordan said. File photo

The Kansas Air National Guard unit stationed at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita could see almost a third of its full-time positions eliminated as the result of defense cuts.

The 184th Intelligence Wing is expected to lose 159 of its 552 full-time positions, or nearly 30 percent, by the end of the next fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2015, Wing Commander Col. Jeffry Jordan said.

Thirty-six of those slots went away this month.

“It’s a big impact,” Jordan said.

The reductions are the result of ongoing federal cuts to defense spending. But Kansas is shouldering a heavier load of the Air National Guard cuts than the other states, Jordan added.

That was driven by the types of missions carried out by some of the 184th’s units, he said, and not because the state was singled out specifically.

If all of the 184th’s cuts are made as expected, the Wing will account for almost half of the total reduction for all Air National Guard units. Nationwide, 329 full-time positions have been eliminated for fiscal years 2014 and ’15, National Guard spokesman Maj. Earl Brown said.

In addition to reducing full-time slots, the 184th has already lost 26 part-time positions. That figure will likely increase to 62 by the end of fiscal year 2015.

Part-timers are the airmen who pull weekend duty once a month and attend annual two-week training.

“This has nothing to do with the quality of the airmen we have,” Jordan said. “This is largely a budgetary decision.”

The Kansas Air National Guard was made aware of the cuts earlier this year and has been making adjustments, including finding spots for the airmen whose positions are being eliminated, spokeswoman Sharon Watson said.

Some of the manpower reductions will be managed through retirements, officials said.

A few of the affected airmen have been placed with the Guard’s 190th Air Refueling Wing, which is based in Topeka. The Air Force Reserve unit at McConnell, 931st Air Refueling Group, may hire some, Jordan said.

But by time the current round of reductions and eliminations through fiscal year 2015 are finished, about 25 of the 184th’s full-time airmen are expected to be laid off.

“There’s not going to be enough chairs for everybody,” Jordan said. “On one hand, we understand the situation we’re in with the budget, and the military is going to have to pay a price to get the budget in order.

“On the other hand, it’s very personal for airmen who are losing their jobs and have kids in college and a mortgage to pay. That’s tough.”

As of this week, the 184th had 1,386 airmen. About 7 percent of the part-time positions are expected to be sliced by the end of fiscal year 2015.

The Wing’s 127th Command and Control Squadron was eliminated this month. It provided duplicate communications and support services, according to the guard’s 2013 annual report.

The 184th Munitions Squadron will be pulled from the 184th at the end of fiscal year 2015 and transferred to Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

Those two units account for 122 full-time and 43 part-time spots being eliminated, Jordan said. The rest is expected to come from cuts to the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron.

Air Force officials have told the 184th that its 177th will see reductions by Sept. 30, 2015, although final action hasn’t been taken. The unit has the Air National Guard’s only team that conducts cyber operations that replicate what an enemy would do, according to guard’s website.

Since the 184th came into existence in 1941 – albeit under a different name – the Wing has been “resilient during change,” Jordan said.

It had a flying mission – including F16s, heavy bombers and refueling tankers – until it switched to intelligence in 2008.

Less than half of the 184th’s airmen are now actually involved with the intelligence mission, Jordan said. Medical, civil engineering and a variety of support units also make up the 184th.

That diversification will work in the 184th’s favor for keeping it alive, Jordan said.

“We’re trying to get a new mission,” he added, “but there’s nothing solid on the horizon.”

State funds make up only a small percentage of the 184th’s annual budget, which is $38 million. The rest comes from the federal government.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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