Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Attorney General Steve Bullock on Monday said Montana has received assurances from Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley that the F-15 fighter jets from the Montana Air National Guard base in Great Falls will not be transferred to Fresno, California, before the C-130 aircraft promised in their place are provided.
The state today asked the federal district court in Great Falls to dismiss “without prejudice” a lawsuit it filed late last month to immediately halt transfer of the fighter jets until a replacement mission could be secured. Doing so allows the lawsuit to be re-filed should the Air Force later renege on its agreement to delay the planned transfer and again take steps toward moving the 15 fighter jets out of Montana. U.S. Federal Judge Sam Haddon in Great Falls
“It is essential that the Montana Air National Guard retain the ability to carry out its dual role mission of effective response to domestic emergencies,” said Schweitzer, commander in chief of the Montana National Guard. “This lawsuit helped protect the people and the mission of the Montana Air National Guard and was effective in halting the transfer.”
In its lawsuit, the state had argued that transferring the 120th Fighter Wing’s F-15 jets without Governor Schweitzer’s consent would violate federal law which states that “no change in the branch, organization, or allotment of a unit located entirely within a State may be made without the approval of its governor.” Because Schweitzer has staunchly opposed the transfer, Bullock’s lawsuit argued that it should not be implemented.
“The lawsuit my office filed last month made it very clear to the Department of Defense that gutting the Montana Air National Guard’s mission was simply not acceptable,” Bullock said. “I’m very pleased that we were effective in halting the transfer. The continued air mission here reflects the respect rightfully due the men and women who serve as Montana National Guard members. And it is vitally important to Great Falls’ and the state’s economy.”
Approximately 800 Montana Air National Guard servicemen and women are directly tied to the 120th Fighter Wing. The loss of the F-15s without replacement aircraft may have endangered the ability of pilots to maintain accreditation or gain specific training needed for the highly specialized mission. The impact of these jobs on the Great Falls economy was estimated at $66 million in 2011 alone. The Montana Air National Guard also spends roughly $15 million annually in fuel purchased from a local Montana refinery.