Georgia lawmakers fight plans to close pilot training center


FILE – Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaks during a weekly Democratic Policy Luncheon press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. A bipartisan group of Georgia lawmakers are asking Congressional budget framers to reject the Biden administration’s plan to shut down a training center for military pilots. Five Georgia congressmen led by Warnock sent a letter last week asking key members of the House and Senate appropriations committees to restore $11.5 million to keep the Savannah training center open. . (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)


A bipartisan group of Georgia lawmakers is asking congressional budget framers to reject the Biden administration’s plan to shut down a military pilot training center in the state.

Georgia’s five congressmen, led by Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, sent a letter to key members of the House and Senate subcommittees that oversee defense budgets asking for $11.5 million to keep open the Combat Readiness Training Center in Savannah.

President Joe Biden’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 would eliminate funding for the Air National Guard Center that conducts air-to-air combat training missions for active duty reservists and fighter pilots.

“As members of Congress, we recognize that budgets have limits and that tough decisions must be made to protect our nation’s bottom line,” the April 28 letter said. “But our military’s ability to conduct realistic, live training sets us apart from our adversaries.”

The letter continued: “We can see from Russia’s tactical incompetence in Ukraine how disastrous it can be if a nation does not properly prepare its fighters. This is exactly why the CRTC in Savannah must remain open.

The fight for the training center has put Biden at odds with some members of his own party in Georgia. Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff signed the letter opposing the shutdown. So did Democratic Representative Sanford Bishop and Republican Representatives Buddy Carter and Austin Scott.

The U.S. military has proposed closing the Savannah center in part because of budget constraints as well as changes in training requirements and user demand, said Air National Guard spokeswoman Maj. Amber Schatz.

The Air National Guard operates three similar pilot training centers in Gulfport, Mississippi; Alpena, Michigan; and Camp Douglas, Wisconsin. If the Georgia facility closes, the other three “can absorb the comprehensive training requirements needed to be ready today while modernizing to be stronger tomorrow,” Schatz said in an emailed statement.

Georgia lawmakers say the Savannah training center is more efficient, in part because it shares an airfield with another Air National Guard unit, the 165th Airlift Wing. It is located near the coastal city’s commercial airport.

Members of Congress argue that closing the Savannah training center would cut about 100 military and civilian jobs. They also say it would waste about $25 million spent building a new fighter maintenance hangar that is expected to be completed in August.

The Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, which is also fighting to keep the center open, says the facility conducted more than 2,000 training missions last year and hosted nearly 6,000 people.

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