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Western Pa. military air bases cancel training flights amid shutdown

| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 12:04 a.m.

Two local military air bases have canceled the training flights that keep their crews proficient because of the federal government shutdown.

“The only missions we are flying right now are operational missions,” said Maj. Karen Bogdan of the Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing in Findlay, where more than half of the daily workforce has been furloughed.

The Air Force Reserve's 911th Airlift Wing canceled training scheduled for this weekend and had canceled the flights that its crews need to maintain their proficiency status, said Capt. Shawn Walleck. Although the crews can adjust to that in the short term, it's not a good long-term option, he said.

“Instead of just having proficiency training, they have to get requalified,” Walleck said. “There is definitely a ripple effect.”

As part of the shutdown triggered by Congress' inability to pass a budget or temporary spending bill, the Obama administration has ordered the Guard and the Reserve to furlough most of their military technicians, who are members of the Guard and the Reserve and work full-time at military bases as civilian employees.

Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking him to rescind the order.

“I am urging you to take immediate action to put these soldiers and airmen back to work providing vital full-time support for our National Guard,” the governor wrote.

Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent Hagel a letter on Friday saying that the Military Pay Protection Act the president signed Monday was intended to keep these technicians working.

“I supported bipartisan legislation, which is now law, to make sure that our troops in harm's way, and the public servants who support them, will continue to receive their paychecks,” Toomey said.

Maj. Ed Shank, spokesman for the Pennsylvania National Guard, said the main impact of the furloughs has been felt at the Guard's air wings and its headquarters in Fort Indiantown Gap.

“None of our helicopters are flying,” he said.

Most of the Army National Guard's armories are staffed by Active Guard Reserve soldiers who are not subject to furloughs, Shank said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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