104th Fighter Wing Showcases Western Massachusetts' 182 acre "Pea Patch" and its Global Impact

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey
  • 104th FIghter Wing
Approximately 25 Legislators representing Western Massachusetts municipalities, the local region, the Commonwealth and the United States federal government, attended the 104th Fighter Wing's 2016 Legislative Day on August 14, 2016.  

During the tour, Air National Guard leaders including Lt. Gen. S. Scott Rice, Director of the Air National Guard, and Col. James A. Keefe, Commander, 104th Fighter Wing, briefed attendees on how the Air National Guard and the104th Fighter Wing's missions are making a difference in our nation, including stateside domestic operations and overseas deployments.

"We are what you call a force provider to the Adjutant General when natural disasters or emergencies occur," said Keefe. "We integrate with the Army National Guard. We have Air Force military drivers trained to drive Army vehicles, and Air National Guard medics trained to fly in Army medic helicopters."

Key topics of interest included the economic impact the 104th Fighter Wing brings to the local community, Barnes Air National Guard Base as possible future selection site for the F-35, the Wing's recent deployments with NATO members as part of Operations Atlantic Resolve, and the ongoing need to provide  mission ready Airmen to defend our nation.

"We have a dual mission = stateside supporting the Governor and overseas supporting combatant commanders," said Col. Keefe. "Here at Barnes we have a 24/7 and 365- day mission. We have pilots, maintainers, security forces, command post personnel, on alert protecting the northeastern United States. We deploy for Noble Eagle mission and are one of the alert units who protect the President of the United States when he travels."

Keefe added "We recently won the Air Control Unit of the year out of the whole Air Force... We are making a difference in our nation and we proud of that."

Col. Keefe addressed the frequently asked question: "Why does the Governor need F-15s in his state?"

"He needs the support functions that come along with running a wing -- the medical, logistics, and security support integral to the state's domestic operation missions. He supports the flying mission, and leverages our depth of capabilities when a natural disaster or emergency occurs, as defense support of civilian authorities."

"Right now we have firefighters deployed to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) theater operations. We just had EOD folks come back. We had over thirty of our Security Forces come back from Afghanistan, after providing base defense services."

"We had a medical team in Kenya doing work with African nations. Some people over there have never had medical or dental work. Our dentist was over there pulling out teeth. I really think that is one of the most important national security things we do as a nation is supporting that non-combat support."

"A lot of different capabilities we provide...and that's why the governor needs an F-15 unit."

Col. William Bladen, Operations Group Commander, briefed the legislators on the Wing's deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

"We are there to reassure long term allies and to deter aggression," said Bladen. "...develop interoperability...if we actually go to war we need to be on the same radio frequencies. We only get that from training with our allies. It is important to have the same tactics."

"Third of our total force went on a northern route and two thirds southern route. We were separated for 45 days and reconvened for the 45 days. We were doing the mission while maintaining the home station mission, splitting pilots and maintainers.

We were under the NATO alert operation. We stood up alert just like we do here but we had to validate during four exercises to prove to NATO...and after the third one they said 'that's enough you guys are the fastest scramble we have ever seen here in Iceland. That's because we do it a lot here and we take it very seriously.

We were the first theater security package to operate in three areas simultaneously serving three combatant commands. That is unheard of in the active duty. After eighteen years on active duty, I have never seen a squadron be able to do that. I am proud of our unit .... (Working directly with) NATO, European Command, and Northern Command back here for homeland defense.

While in Bulgaria we volunteered for a service project at a kindergarten school completely run down. Bushes were growing high and rusty old pieces of equipment with sharp edges. We painted, and built benches, our maintainers constructed sheet metal and reworked it. We fixed their toilets, overall a huge success. We funded it ourselves by charging $5.00 for lunch at our dining hall and donating a dollar toward the project making enough for the project.

End result from this little tiny pea patch in Western Massachusetts, we had fighters deployed in four different locations throughout the world, making a difference."

Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, Director of the Air National Guard, says the future looks good for Barnes.

"Barnes Air National Guard is the greatest installation in our country," said Rice. "This is the model base for me. Every standard I can think of is here at Barnes. Evolution, infrastructure, how they are organized, how they meet, they are cost effective. I market that very well across the country within the other eighty eight Wings. I do that with great pride, great emphasis and strength, as I fight for my kids and grandkids"

Col. Keefe believes the 104th has a good a chance as any Air National Guard base in the country to be home to a steal fighter jet. He said "We have a munitions storage area, a great runway and above all, community support is really what kind of helps influence a lot of those decisions and the community support around here for the 104th Fighter Wing is unmatched."

Michael Knapik, Director of Gov. Charlie Baker's Springfield office said "It is really our responsibility to talk about the importance of this base to our region and in Western Mass - we can't take for granted the presence of hundreds of service men and women and the importance of the national federal mission along with state mission. 

"The missions this base provides (is critical), (and) I know on behalf of Gov. Baker, (that) we are very concerned about our future. It is very uncertain about the future of the military and we want to be sure we pay attention constantly. We work very closely with Gen. Rice in Washington and with Gen. Gary Keefe here in Massachusetts to make sure these bases stay strong for the future. I have been here many times over the years but for new legislators it is important for them to see the importance of Barnes as well."

The annual Legislative Day at Barnes gives military leadership a chance to give federal, state, and local elected officials a look at the mission of the 104th Fighter Wing and the important role they have training Barnes Air National Guard Base.

"The biggest selling point of Barnes is the base itself," said Gen. Gary Keefe, the Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard. "Barnes is used as the text book example of what the nation wants from its Air National Guard bases. It is a very small footprint here on Barnes municipal airport, it costs next to nothing for the unit to be here and the economic impact we bring to the Western Mass community is huge."

Col. Keefe added that "at the 104th Fighter Wing, we keep our costs down.  We have a lot of synergies with the city of Westfield. For instance, our fire dept. is military and it actually does firefighting for the whole airport. Our Security Forces Squadron helps out with some of the security. We do the snow removal for the city part of the airport because we are a 24/7 alert. It's a great synergy."

As the briefings on base operations concluded Gen. Keefe thanked the legislators for spending time at Barnes Air National Guard Base. "Thank you for joining us today to see what 182 acres means to us."