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Published May 11 2012

House bill could restore Fargo Guard’s manned air mission

FARGO – A U.S. House bill that restores new flying mission for Fargo’s Air National Guard base is a “giant step forward” in keeping a manned air mission here, officials said Friday.

“We’re in a much better place now than we were two weeks ago,” said Craig Whitney, chairman of the volunteer Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Air Guard support group.

The House version of the National Defense Reauthorization Act restores C-27J cargo aircraft, which North Dakota and several other states were originally promised.

The aircraft were cancelled by the Air Force as part of cost-savings requirements, but losing the new planes would make Fargo’s Air Guard the only one in the country without a manned mission.

The C-21s the Air Guard flies now are due to be retired by early 2013. The House is expected to vote on the defense bill next week Republican Rep. Rick Berg expects smooth passage.

“There are very few hold-ups,” he said, while acknowledging: “This is a first step, but there’s a heck of a lot more work that needs to be done.”

After the House vote, the Senate will either take up the House’s bill or consider its own. Any differences between the bills would be resolved by a conference committee.

Berg said he’s optimistic that if the C-27J program is included in both chambers’ defense bills that the provision will be “a non-issue” when it’s time for a conference committee to hash out the details.

North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad, a Democrat, and John Hoeven, a Republican, also support restoring the C-27J program for Fargo’s base. Fargo’s Air National Guard base employs more than 1,000 individuals, including 300 full-time employees.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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