DETROIT (Michigan News Source) – On Wednesday the U.S. Air Force announced that it would be selecting Arkansas for the location of the future international training center for the F-35 fighter aircraft rather than the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County.
According to a press release published in the Arkansas Times, the decision became official on Friday March 10, when U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall III signed a decision naming the Ebbing Air National Guard Base as the official choice to host the military mission.
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Arkansas Governor Sarah Sanders weighed in yesterday, voicing her support of the decision calling the state an “international powerhouse.”
“Today’s announcement makes that fact clear and cements Arkansas’ important role in training, equipping, and supplying our friends across the globe,” Governor Sanders said in a statement. “I look forward to welcoming the new U.S. Air Force personnel who will be moving to our state and am excited for all our international partners to discover the meaning of Arkansas hospitality. The Fort Smith community was instrumental in securing this major new mission for Ebbing Air National Guard Base – they have my deepest gratitude for their hard work.”
The base will have the capacity for up to 36 fighter aircraft with a minimum of 12 F-16s and 24 F-35s according to Fort Smith. Air Force officials anticipate that roughly 900 military members and their families will be brought to the Fort Smith region, comprised of roughly 230 Air Force personnel, and several hundred military personnel and dependent families to the region from the Republic of Singapore.
Despite multiple requests to U.S. Air Force Secretary Kendal from Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and promises to help fund the enterprise of using Selfridge Base, the Air Force opted for Ebbing Air National Guard Base at Force Smith in Arkansas.
Part of the Governor’s efforts to sway the Air Force to use Michigan as the destination included a pledge to use almost $100 million in state tax dollars to offset the costs of upgrading facilities and infrastructure at the base.
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“I repeat my commitment to funding upgrades, which would significantly reduce the cost to the Air Force by almost $100 million,” Whitmer’s letter said, “I look forward to sharing more with you about the next steps in this commitment as we solidify our state budget in the next few weeks.”
Senator Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) has previously advocated for the mission to be instituted at Selfridge and also commented on the Air Force’s decision.
“While I am disappointed that Selfridge wasn’t selected for the F-35, our fight for the base’s future is far from over,” Senator Hertel said in an email to Michigan News Source, “As Chair of the Appropriations subcommittee on Military, Veterans, and State Police, I will continue working to ensure that our state is well-positioned to host one of the many next-generation fighter missions coming online in the next few years.”
In the House, Representative Alicia St. Germaine (R-Harrison Township) echoed her support for the base in light of the decision not to give the program to Selfridge.
”Selfridge isn’t just a strategic military base with 9,000 foot runway and significant room to grow and host additional missions important to our national security, it’s also a crucial part of our community,” Representative St. Germaine said in an email, “The base accounts for nearly 5,000 jobs. I’ll be working to ensure we can continue to keep this base open so that it can continue to be a vibrant part of our community. The sound of jets overheard in my district is the sound of freedom. I will continue to do whatever possible to keep the base strong and vibrant.”
The base has housed and trained thousands of pilots and other military members in its more than 100 year history, including the retiring fleet of A-10 Warthog planes.
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