BANGOR, Maine — Funding for a key program of the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing will be extended for another month, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced Thursday after a conversation with the undersecretary of the Air Force.
Collins, a member of both the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees, has been fighting for the Airbridge program since news surfaced earlier this month that it was targeted for discontinuation as part of larger budget cuts. Specifically, the senator urged Air Force Undersecretary Erin Conaton and the Air Force to take a closer look at proposed budget cuts that would cause some of the 145 Guard members stationed in Bangor to lose their jobs.
Collins said Conaton assured her that funding would be extended through Nov. 30.
The senator also announced Thursday that Gen. Raymond Johns, commander of Air Mobility Command, has accepted her invitation to visit the 101st Air Refueling Wing in Bangor next week.
“I look forward to welcoming him so that he is able to see firsthand the refueling missions accomplished by the Northeast Tanker Task Force and learn more about how this dedicated personnel has helped the Air Force fulfill its mission in an extremely cost-effective manner,” Collins said. “I am confident that General Johns will be impressed with the valuable contribution these airmen and women have made over the past seven years and continue to make now.”
The Airbridge program provides in-air fueling for cargo planes, fighter jets and other aircraft headed across the Atlantic Ocean to military spots in Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan and for medical evacuation and other flights returning to U.S. soil.
The Bangor base is uniquely situated to perform this service because of its geographic location. The 101st coordinates in-air refueling services for bases in New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania that participate in the Airbridge program.
A total of about 850 Air Guard members are on the base at any given time, most routine training, maintenance and support positions. Wing commander Col. John D’Errico said earlier this month that losing the Airbridge program would mean the 101st would revert to its primary pre-2003 status as an Air Guard training unit, al-though it would retain some active military refueling operations.
Although funding was extended for a month, the long-term status of the Airbridge program is still up in the air. Collins sent a letter to her colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee calling on them to fully fund the Air Force’s request for an additional $378 million above the president’s request for fiscal year 2011.
“I explained to Undersecretary Conaton that I am committed to assisting the Air Force achieve funding levels necessary to support its overseas contingency operations,” Collins said. “I also reiterated my concern that those who serve are treated fairly, and that the Air Force must provide more time and notification to those who will eventually transition back to civilian life in order to help ease the adjustment.”