Several elected officials, business owners and community members have spent the past two days showing Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James why the Gowen Field National Guard Base should stay in Boise. James flew in from the Pentagon after discussions began about retiring Gowen Field's fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II jet planes.
A-10s are being retired from the Air Force's inventory nationwide starting next year. The problem, though, is Gowen Field doesn't yet have aircraft to replace the outgoing fleet.
Boise mayor Dave Bieter, Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce President Bill Connors held a press conference Thursday, Feb. 19, to discuss how their meetings with Secretary James went.
"We are hopeful that the future of Gowen Field is a bright one," Bieter said, explaining that Gowen Field participated in a highly-competitive process to receive the Air Force's next generation of aircrafts: the F-35 air superiority fighter, and that Gowen ended up in the top three on that list.
However, no one could say for certain whether Gowen Field will receive the F-35s, or where the A-10s will end up in the meantime.
"The Air Force has put out its timeline," said Risch. "It's a timeline we don't agree with as a delegation and we want to see it adjusted. The Air Force's timeline is set to begin next year. Its pre-stated position has been that it's going to start retiring the A-10s this time next year, but the deployment of the F-35s [to national guard bases] may be two, three, four, five, six years down the road. It's the dovetailing of the retirement of the A-10 and the implementation of the F-35 that we think is not on the right time scale."
Members of Idaho's delegation said they showed Secretary James the benefits of Boise in terms of a location for a national guard base. The infrastructure is already in place, they said; the experience of the national guard here is strong, and combining the national guard with the Air Force base in Mountain Home may hurt recruitment, as many who live in Boise would not be willing to drive more than an hour to go to work out there.
"To me, one of the most important things about this visit is that she [James] has now been here on the ground in Idaho," Sen. Crapo said. "She sees the commitment we have, she sees the strength of Gowen Field."
The press conference ended without concrete resolution, but on a note of hopefulness. Now, the Secretary of the Air Force will travel back to the Pentagon with new considerations about the fate of the A-10s at Gowen Field.