Tucson's Air National Guard base working through gov't shutdown - Tucson News Now

Tucson's Air National Guard base working through the government shutdown

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

In Tucson a branch of the Arizona National Guard says it's still flying in spite of the federal government shutdown, but it's not quite operations as usual.

While the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard is continuing to train F-16 fighter pilots during the shutdown, one important function is not happening at all.

That's the mission to train Air Guard members who are known as citizen airmen or weekend warriors.

They are everything from pilots to crew chiefs to finance personnel.

They go to the base on Valencia Road to work and train one weekend a month.

They missed training in October. November is still up in the air.

The fighter wing says it's a paycheck those people count on.

The base says the training, of course, is important.

"For long term support and combat readiness it is important to have them. Missing one and being able to make it up, we're okay. And by the time this is resolved we should be fine, but it is a direct impact because training builds up. Obviously, we have to work through that, and we will," says Vice Wing Commander 162nd Fighter Wing Lt. Col. Kenneth Rosson.

The wing is stationed at Tucson International Airport.

It's the largest Air National Guard Fighter Wing in the country, and for now, it continuing its most important and most visible mission.

Tucsonans can see that mission happening every day as F-16 fighter jets fly our skies.

The 162nd Fighter Wing trains F-16 pilots for the U.S. military and for several partner nations.

When the shutdown first happened, across all the state's National Guard units, some 1,100 federal civilian employees were furloughed.

Most of them are back at work.

The 162nd still has 53 full-time employees furloughed because of the shutdown.

Fighter training continues because at the 162nd they have what's called an "excepted" mission.

In other words, they are protected from the federal government shutdown and will keep flying, keep training pilots.

"There's no impact in the day to day mission and the safety and execution of it. It's unchanged. There's no added risk to that and we're executing the training mission like we've been doing prior to October the first. There's no difference in that," Rosson says.

However, things could change.

"It changes probably daily. And we're ready for--if we need to stop the flying mission we can stop the flying mission and then we can basically bed down everything until there's a resolution made because there could be a time when we are not excepted," Rosson says.

That would help cut off the pipeline of trained F-16 fighter pilots, at least temporarily.

"We're excepted because we don't want to stop the pipeline, but if it does stop, we can catch the students back up. It's just like school closing down for a week. The students get behind. You start back up and then we will safely get them back on track and start them back up. Overall, impact on national security, it really doesn't have any because it would be probably something short time," Rosson says.

That's the hope, that any possible grounding of F-16 pilot training would not last long.

For now, Rosson says his main concern is for the workers who have been furloughed and for the citizen airmen, all of whom are not getting paychecks they count on.

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