Penn. Governor Fights Deactivation of Guard Units

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The Pentagon wants to close Willow Grove Naval Air Station, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The move would deactivate the 111th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has brought a suit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the Pentagon's authority to deactivate Guard units. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Brad Linder reports.


Pennsylvania's governor has filed suit against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The suit is over the Pentagon's authority to deactivate National Guard units. A federal judge in Philadelphia heard arguments in the case yesterday, and we have a report this morning from Brad Linder of station WHYY.

BRAD LINDER reporting:

The Pentagon wants to close the Willow Grove Naval Air Station located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The move would mean shifting airplanes, personnel and funds to other military facilities. It would also mean deactivating the 111th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard and leaving more than a thousand Guard members without jobs. While Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has been leading the fight to keep the entire base operational, he's taken to the courts over the issue of the National Guard. Governor Rendell says the federal government doesn't have the authority to deactivate a Pennsylvania National Guard unit without his permission. He says that's because the National Guard is both a federal and state institution.

Governor EDWARD RENDELL (Pennsylvania): Only when they are activated and called to federal duty, as they have been on occasion and of course are--have been in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Only in those instances do they become federal employees, federal status. The vast majority of the time, they have state status and are state employees, and in fact, must respond to my orders.

LINDER: Rendell says each state has a constitutional right to a militia, and the National Guard is crucial in dealing with natural disasters and homeland security. He says the 111th Fighter Wing represents a quarter of Pennsylvania's Air National Guard. Pennsylvania is the only state that would have a National Guard unit deactivated under the Pentagon's recommendations. And during yesterday's hearing, Judge John Padova had some tough questions about that for Justice Department attorney Matthew Lepore.

(Soundbite of hearing)

Judge JOHN PADOVA (Pennsylvania): As I understand it, the 11th will have no equipment, is that correct?

Mr. MATTHEW LEPORE (Justice Department Attorney): Yes.

Judge PADOVA: No facility, correct?

Mr. LEPORE: Yes.

Judge PADOVA: No funding, correct?

Mr. LEPORE: Correct.

Judge PADOVA: No military personnel assigned to it.

Mr. LEPORE: Correct.

Judge PADOVA: In every respect, that will constitute the total dissolution, the out-of-existence, of the 111th Fighter Wing.

LINDER: Lepore agreed, but he went on to argue that the base realignment and closure process was designed by Congress to streamline the way the military manages its resources.

(Soundbite of hearing)

Mr. LEPORE: ...to not have state actors involved and certainly to not have them have an arbitrary, unilateral veto power over one base when not any other actor in the process gets that power.

LINDER: Lepore says if the Department of Defense needed to get permission from 50 governors, it would be nearly impossible to make any changes in National Guard deployment.

Tim Ford, director of the Association of Defense Communities, says a court ruling in Pennsylvania's favor could have a huge impact on the base realignment process.

Mr. TIM FORD (Director, Association of Defense Communities): If there is a small door opened, you can be sure that every state that can take advantage of that opening would jump into it and would try to change a decision that was impacting their state.

LINDER: Although Pennsylvania is the only state that would lose a National Guard unit in the current BRAC round, the Pentagon wants to shift Air Guard personnel and equipment at 50 other sites across the nation. Illinois and Tennessee have already filed lawsuits similar to Pennsylvania's and officials in Delaware say they're getting ready to do the same.

Judge Padova isn't expected to issue a ruling until after the Base Closure and Realignment Commission finishes deliberations next week.

For NPR News, I'm Brand Linder in Philadelphia.

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