Friday, September 21, 2007

After 30 years, C-130s leave Michigan air base

Thanks to OhioScan and several others for this piece

After more than 30 years of service in Michigan, a venerable military cargo plane is departing the Motor City.
As part of a major nationwide military reorganization, the C-130 Hercules cargo plane is leaving Selfridge Air National Guard Base, just outside Detroit. Air Force Reserve and/or Michigan Air National Guard crews have been flying the plane at the base since 1971.
"We have done everything a C-130 can do in just about every place around the world," said Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Liggins, a flight engineer who works has been working as part of an air crew on on the plane at Selfridge since 1994. "There is no mission in the C-130 that we have not been a part of."
At a going-away party for the aircraft, Liggins ticked off the countries Selfridge C-130s have served in: Bosnia, Panama, Honduras, various spots across Africa and, of course, Afghanistan and Iraq. Half of the Selfridge squadron's C-130 spent the last six months of 2006 supporting the Army and Allied forces in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The change in operations at Selfridge is a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) plan to streamline the nation's military operations. As part of that plan, an Air Force Reserve unit, the 927th Air Refueling Wing, is leaving Selfridge to be re-assigned to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.
The Michigan Air National Guard's 127th Wing is moving from flying C-130 and F-16 Falcon fighter jets to flying KC-135 Stratotanker refuelers and A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft.
The KC-135s will start arriving at Selfridge later this year from an Air Force Reserve unit at Beale AFB, Calif. An exact timeline on the move from F-16s to A-10s has not yet been announced, but Congress enacted a law requiring all BRAC changes to be implemented by the end of 2009.
The last C-130 is expected to depart Selfridge on or about today.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Cutler, a C-130 pilot who is the adjutant general of the Michigan Air National Guard, said the aircraft and its crews have served the nation and its home state well for more than three decades. Cutler said the aircraft's most shining moment came two years ago when pilots and crews from the 127th responded in C-130s to carry aid to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Louisiana area in 2005. "As I watched our aircraft and our people perform supporting our own citizens here at home, I was as proud as I have ever been," Cutler said at the retirement ceremony on Sept. 9 at Selfridge. "With the transition to the KC-135, there will be a new aircraft, a new mission, but it will be the same people performing that mission," Cutler said. "I am confident you will do it just as well as you always have."
Col. Mike Thomas is a veteran of the C-130 at Selfridge. Currently, he is the commander of the 127th Airlift Group which has been flying the Hercules. He soon will be the commander of the 127th Air Refueling Group, flying KC-135s. More than 30 years ago, as a young pilot, he flew C-130s at Selfridge as part of the base's original C-130 unit, the Air Force Reserve's 305th Air Rescue Squadron. He's been with the plane at the base ever since.
Thomas said the 127th is scheduled to receive eight KC-135s and to be fully mission ready in 2008. He said the potential exists that the base could eventually have as many as 12 or 13 of the aircraft in the future.
The change in aircraft means a return trip to pilot training for Capt. Leah Voelker, who has been flying C-130s at Selfridge since 2001. Voelker leaves soon for four-and-a-half months of training to be qualified as a pilot in the KC-135. "It is a different aircraft with a different set of parameters that we need to learn," she said. "It's a new challenge for us."
Liggins, who has been in the Air Force for 21 years, worked on the electronics systems on F-4s and F-16s prior to becoming a flight engineer on C-130s. Later this year, he will go to an Air Force school for several months to be trained to work as an in-flight refueling technician on the KC-135. Asked about the change, he paused and looked at the last Hercules parked outside a hangar at Selfridge. "The C-130 has been home. It's a big shift, a big challenge to reach a new level of proficiency. I'm looking forward to a different mission, a different opportunity, but I am going to miss the C-130," he said.
In addition to the aircraft changes, U.S. Army Garrison-Detroit is leaving Selfridge, leaving several hundred acres of property on the base unused. A developer is expected to be named later in September to develop a plan for the excess property, which includes several hundred feet of frontage on Lake St. Clair.
Other BRAC changes in the Detroit area include a residential area in Macomb County's Chesterfield Township, near the base, that had been used for military housing and is now vacant. The township is working with the federal government to re-develop the property.
At the Detroit Arsenal in Warren, where the Army develops advanced tanks, vehicles, fuels and other technology and has the logistical management center for virtually all of its equipment, the government is adding about 1,000 positions to the installation's 4,000-member work force as it transfers some work from its Rock Island, Illinois, arsenal to the Warren location.