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Selfridge airmen, planes deploy to fight Islamic State

Ursula Watson
The Detroit News

Harrison Township – — Airmen and planes from Selfridge Air National Guard Base have been deployed to the Middle East to fight Islamic State forces.

More are headed there later this year.

The deployment of 350 airmen and 12 A-10 Thunderbolt II planes was announced Tuesday by Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais, the adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard during a luncheon meeting of the base's Community Council. The fliers and equipment were deployed last week for a six-month tour.

The crews, part of Operation Inherent Resolve, will be involved in close-air support missions in southwest Asia, Vadnais said. Because of security concerns, he wouldn't disclose the exact location. The Islamic State controls large swaths of Syria and Iraq and has made progress in other countries in the area.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, whose district includes Selfridge, said the unit was deployed to the Middle East.

Selfridge has had five deployments for the 18-plane A-10 unit at the base, the most recent in 2011 and 2012 for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

"The A-10 is the best close air supporter platform that we have in the inventory," Vadnais said.

More crew, personnel and KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft from Selfridge are to be deployed later this year. In total, more than 500 Selfridge airmen are expected to go overseas this year, about double the number of each of the past two years, Selfridge officials said.

Like any operation, this is very serious, said Brig. Gen. John Slocum, commander of the 127th Wing at Selfridge. Men and women are putting their lives on the line, he added.

According to Vadnais, the men and women deployed last week are following in the tradition of the Michigan National Guard. In the past 13 years of war, 23,000 soldiers and airmen have been deployed; 23 having been killed, he said.

Major Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais addresses the Selfridge Base Community Council monthly luncheon on Tuesday

Operation Inherent Resolve is a U.S. military plan to help local forces eliminate the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. U.S. air support has backed up Iraqi troops trying to retake areas of the controlled by the Islamic State. On Tuesday, Iraqi security forces recaptured areas lost earlier to the Islamic State group in and around the western city of Ramadi in the volatile Anbar province, security officials said Tuesday.

"This deployment is a true testament to the vital role our National Guard plays in national defense and to the effectiveness of the A-10 'Warthog' in combat," Miller said in a press release.

"The brave airmen and women who serve in the 127th Wing have always answered the call to serve and defend this country and fight for the liberties and freedoms we hold dear. We pray for their success and safety as they embark on this new mission."

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said the latest deployment proves the A-10's effectiveness in close air support and shows the plane shouldn't be scrapped.

"America's military is the strongest in the world thanks in no small part to the National Guard units in Michigan and across the country," said Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. "I thank the 127th Wing for their commitment to protecting our freedom and their service to our nation, and I look forward to their success and safe return to Michigan."

Those deployed are from the 107th Fighter Squadron, 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 127th Maintenance Squadron and the 127th Operations Support Squadron. A few airmen from other squadrons have also been deployed, according to Selfridge. All the units involved are components of the 127th Wing.

Members of the state's congressional delegation have pushed to keep the A-10s in service, while the Pentagon wants to retire the jets.

"Those A-10s are not going anywhere, not for the foreseeable future," Vadnais said. "We are not going to die on the sword over the A-10. We do know at some point it will go; it is a legacy airplane. It is a fourth generation fighter."

There are now talks about the F-16s coming to Selfridge, he said.

Vadnais also touched on an expected other round of base closings and realignments.

"For this installation, the way we are positioned, the 40 tenants ... I really don't see any direct threat to Selfridge as it relates to BRAC," he said of Selfridge's future.

Congress established the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission to evaluate which bases could be closed and which duties realigned to save money. Selfridge has had duties and personnel realigned in previous rounds.

uwatson@detroitnews.com

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