The Michigan National Guard welcomed its newest wing commander, Brig. Gen. John “Odie” Slocum, to the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base last November.

Brig Gen Slocum joins the Michigan defense community after several years serving as Inspector General of the Air National Guard at National Guard Bureau headquarters in Maryland. For four years, he served as the ANG’s Director of safety where he led the development of several notable programs, including a suicide prevention and resiliency initiative known as the Wingman Project; a mid-air aircraft collision avoidance program that was adopted across the Dept. of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration; and, authored the ANG’s indigenous human factors for maintenance training curriculum. In 2013, General Slocum was inducted into the U.S. Air Force Safety Hall of Fame. Slocum is a command pilot who initially joined the Air Force in 1984, with most of his flight time initially in the F-4 Phantom and, since the early 1990s, in the F-16 Falcon. In 1992, he joined the Arizona Air National Guard and served with the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, Ariz., until joining the ANG headquarters element in 2009.

Slocum will now put that experience to work as Commander of the 127th Wing and host to the other DoD and DHS units at Selfridge which is the duty station for some 4,400 total personnel, including about 3,000 members of various National Guard and Reserve commands from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. U.S. Coast Guard, Border Patrol and U.S. Customs & Border Protection units also have significant presence at the base. Combined, the total economic impact of payroll and operations at Selfridge is estimated to be well above $825 million annually.

With this economic impact to the local community in mind, the Michigan Defense Center asked General Slocum to share his views on the budgetary and mission discussions currently taking place.

BG Slocum: “There continues to be a lot of press about the future of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, aka: Warthog, and what the future holds for Selfridge Air National Guard Base, and I want to take some time to address this. However, let me first point out that the 127th Wing, Michigan Air National Guard, local men and women serving this great state and country, continue to train, deploy and serve honorably in an unprecedented battle rhythm.

The 127th Air Refueling Group, flying KC-135 Stratotankers – bringing the “global” to Global Air Power, recently ended a three year constant mobilization of jets and aircrew to support the Central Command theater. This unit also has aircrew and jets dedicated specifically to CONUS, or continental U.S., missions supporting stateside training and medical evacuation or movement of patients throughout the country. Our airmen are constantly on the go, and they’re gearing up for another round of overseas deployments as well as inspection cycles even as you’re reading this. Their global mobility mission is foundational to keeping the U.S. Air Force, our sister services, and our allies in the fight.

Regarding the environment of uncertainty surrounding the A-10 mission, let me share with you what I do know as our state leadership, congressional representatives, and community partners prepare to step into the ring to advocate for missions at Selfridge. We wholly anticipate that the AF will continue on with its desire to divest itself of the A-10 fleet in the near future.

Retiring the A-10 aircraft and ending the fighter missions at Selfridge/in Michigan portends an unrecoverable divestment of a proven capability that is the zenith of decades of investment and effort in building the history’s best close air support system. The A-10 weapons system is more than a plane with an impressive gun; it’s a deep bench of specialized designers, engineers, maintainers, operators, communications systems, forward air controllers, weapons, and specialized equipment working in decades-rehearsed, combat-honed synchronous harmony. The aircraft sitting on the ramp and flying in the air is just the most visible element of this system which finds its true capability in the hands and heads of people like the men and women of the 127th – who can turn the A-10 Thunderbolt II into the fearsome and proven weapon that friends envy to emulate and our enemies loath to fight.

Any plane can be given the ability to perform the Close Air Support (CAS) mission. The Air Force touts the CAS capabilities of the B-1, the F-16, and the newest fighter aircraft in the inventory, the F-35. But to say any aircraft can do CAS is analogous to saying any person can run. Even out of shape and overweight people ‘can’ run. In this analogy the A-10 weapons system represents our nation’s top Olympic athletes at the zenith of their game. Yes, other aircraft can perform a CAS mission– but it’s the unique and specialized skills of our maintainers and operators that truly make the A-10 stand alone as the world’s premier attack weapons system.

I will say that Air Force budget priorities and force structure decisions are rightfully the exclusive domain of Air Force’s top military and civilian leaders, as well as our congressional representation and policy makers. I will not portend to say the budgetary environment isn’t forcing exceptionally tough decisions upon faithful defenders of and advocates for our country’s national security. Those unenviable battles are Washington’s business; however, advocating for the Michigan Air National Guard and the 127th Wing is mine.

When it comes to national security and the safety of our men and women in uniform – I won’t bargain. I stand by the Air Force core value of “excellence in all we do”. My goal is to uncompromisingly and tenaciously adhere to our foundational principles, and insomuch cannot advocate for anything but the best for our nation’s defenders. We owe it to our fighting troops to not just do CAS – but to provide the most effective close air support we can. The CAS capability provided by the A-10 weapon system is unmatched.

However, as with any aircraft, there is a time and a place to recapitalize the fleet and introduced new technologies. The 127th Wing and the Michigan Air National Guard are perfectly postured to host a future fighter/attack mission. Keeping fighters in Michigan makes perfect sense.

Keeping a fighter mission in Michigan makes sense for our country. Multiple studies validate that Michigan provides an ideal basing location, airspace, and infrastructure to support attack/CAS aircraft capabilities. We have the knowledge and expertise to quickly and effectively employ world-class capabilities. We have been the “Proven Choice” for national defense in the past, we’re proving it today, and we’ll continue to prove it in the future. As our Wing Motto says: We Stand Ready.

Keeping a fighter mission in Michigan makes sense for our state. Our strategic location in America’s heartland, ample versatile airspace, expansive ranges, and training opportunities make Michigan an efficient and economical choice to preserve and provide combat capability. Keeping dissimilar aircraft and mission capabilities in the 127th Wing effectively positions the Michigan ANG to remain the “First Choice” for domestic operations for the Governor of Michigan.

Keeping a fighter mission in Michigan makes sense for our community. The manufacturing economic base of southeastern Michigan provides our diverse citizen Guardsmen unmatched complementary civilian skills training and employment opportunities. Selfridge Air National Guard Base provides an $820 million dollar economic impact to the local area, hosting and leading the most diverse and expansive cooperative government facility operation in the country. Historic Selfridge ANGB is strategically located at the crossroads of our nation’s heartland – providing an unparalleled “Enduring Choice” combination of location, transportation hubs, infrastructure, relationships, and facilities.

Keeping a fighter mission in Michigan makes sense for our people. The capable and motivated men and women of the 127th Wing are the heart of our capability. Our Guardsmen exemplify the Air Force core value of “service before self” by sacrificially serving their country every day. Keeping faith with our citizen airmen includes looking out for their best interests, providing skills training, personal and professional growth opportunities, and fostering a continued culture of national, state, and community service. Investing in our Guardsmen provides an exponential return on investment that benefits the country, the State of Michigan, the community, and our Guardsmen themselves. Everybody wins.

We may be able to, and eventually will, replace the A-10 aircraft. However, we will never be able to replace the decades of specialized training, unique skills, and combat-earned experience if we let go of the fighter mission. The battle to keep the A-10 mission is a symbolic, tangible, and definitive struggle to safeguard the hard-won treasure that is our national defense CAS and attack capability.

We have an amazing arsenal of community and legislative supporters dedicated to preserving our capabilities and organization. I understand that this is their battle. However, it is my vision for Selfridge to continue to have two weapons systems on our ramp – the KC-135s’ enduring global reach operations, and a fighter mission that continues our rich heritage, utilizes our experience, training and assets, and employs our Michigan airspace and ranges.

Selfridge ANGB has the capability and capacity to bed down any mission the Air Force or DoD wants to send our way, but our vision is to continue with tankers and fighters for the reasons listed above. The men and women who make up the 127th Wing are talented, capable and tenacious, and I am certain will excel at every change and opportunity they are given.

Selfridge ANGB is approaching 100 years of continuous service as one of our nation’s pioneering aviation facilities, in 2017. This base and military aviation out of Macomb County have weathered and persevered through our nation’s military’s toughest times. I am confident that 100 years from now we’ll be preparing for the bicentennial as a steadfast monument to the continued contributions and readiness of your hometown Air Force.”