Restructuring affects 908th AW

by Gene H. Hughes
908th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

2/10/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- According to a plan announced Feb. 3 by the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force, the service will retire older aircraft as part of an effort to reduce the size of the Department of Defense's budget by $487 billion over the next decade. The 908th Airlift Wing's seven C-130 Hercules aircraft, built in 1985, are among those to be retired in Fiscal Year 2014.

The Pentagon's official release, which stated the wing will remain operational, provided little comfort to anxious members of the wing. Many traditional reservists didn't hear the news until arriving Saturday morning for the unit's monthly training assembly.

"It was very surprising to hear," said Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Butterbaugh, a crew chief with the 908th Maintenance Group. Butterbaugh has worked on seven models of the C-130, the 908th's H-2 models being the newest. "Given the condition they're in and the quality in which they're maintained, I imagined they'd far outlast me," he said.

The 908th has been a tactical airlift unit since its formation 49 years ago.

"We don't know what the Air Force has in mind for us for the future, but we're working with Air Force Reserve Command to find a new mission for the wing," said Col. Brett Clark, 908th Airlift Wing Commander, who added the best interests of his Airmen is his top priority. "We are a family in the 908th, and we will support our members and their families as we go through what is certainly an unsettling time."

Clark encourages the 1,200-plus Airmen and their families to remain optimistic.

When an active duty unit closes, everyone transfers to their next base. The loss of a reserve unit's mission can have a more profound effect upon its members.

Reservists have civilian jobs and family ties binding them to a particular location. Many 908th members may now have to choose between commuting hundreds of miles to another reserve unit, retiring or separating.

"Reservists tend to stay close to their own communities, often serving in one or two units for the majority of our careers," said wing spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry Lobb. "We often serve together, in many cases, for two or three decades. This announcement may mean our extended family members will be retiring or separating, leaving the service behind."

The decision impacts the operations group, which is made up of aircrew personnel as well as flight medics and nurses; the aerial port squadron, which prepares the cargo for transport and drops, loads and offloads the aircraft; and the maintenance group, which keeps the planes in combat-ready condition.

Out of 1,250-plus positions at the unit, more than 700 are now at risk, but there has been no letdown in getting the job done, said unit commanders.

"The members of the operations group are remaining focused on their mission after the force structure announcement," said group commander Col. Edward Jennings. "True professionals, they stay focused on accomplishing the flying mission with precision and excellence like they always do."

While saluting the 908th for its contributions, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange has hope for the unit's future.

"The 908th has a long and distinguished tradition of contributing to our military," he said. "While we understand the necessity to restructure funding within the armed forces, we are heartened that the 908th will remain as a unit."

"The 908th has made numerous contributions to our local community and to military efforts around the globe," Strange said. "We will work diligently with all parties, including our Congressional delegation to seek missions for the men and women of the 908th."

The loss also means a significant impact on the community, as members of the 908th have more than $60 million in economic impact to Montgomery area restaurants, hotels, theaters, clubs and retail outlets.

The retirement for aircraft that have delivered personnel and materials, from Navy SEALs and Army Rangers to hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo and humanitarian supplies all over the world is scheduled to take place in Fiscal Year 2014, which begins Oct. 1, 2013.

While the wing's future is still unclear, several options remain on the table. Further announcements are expected in the next few weeks that will address plans for units and personnel.