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Air Force Accused of Influencing Georgia Runoff in Favor of Republicans

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 11/25/2020 Paul D. Shinkman

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is accusing the civilian political appointee who oversees the Air Force of attempting to influence the hotly contested Senate runoff election in Georgia, saying the timing of an announcement to station new, sophisticated aircraft at a base in Savannah "inherently politicizes" the process.

"The timing and decision to include Savannah, Georgia, in the announcement, when Georgia is focused on Senate runoff elections, raises questions about the secretary's motives," Rep. Adam Smith said in a statement late Tuesday. "The Air Force did not need to make this decision now – plain and simple – and should delay moving forward with these basing actions."

The Democrat from Washington state was concerned about the Air Force's announcement earlier in the day of preferred locations for a new fleet of C-130J Super Hercules, the newest version of the storied cargo planes. He said the process for determining where the planes will be based is still under review and that Congress may nullify the Air Force's announcement in its upcoming military funding bill. Smith also seemed unaware that the service was considering adding a fourth installation for the C-130s that would accommodate its plans for the Georgia Air National Guard Base and the 165th Airlift Wing there.

"I am disappointed that the Air Force rushed today's announcement, a decision that could mar the service's historically repeatable, transparent, and deliberate strategic basing process, which until now has helped insulate basing decisions from political influence," Smith said. "If the Air Force plods ahead, the service runs the risk of undermining the strategic basing process and may force Congress to take action to protect the basing process from being used to potentially influence congressional action or election outcomes."

A spokeswoman for the air service and for Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett declined to respond to questions about Smith's concerns regarding the timing of the announcement but said the base in Savannah had been added to three other installations set to receive the C-130s because Congress has hinted at buying more of the aircraft in the future.

"Naming the preferred alternatives now allows us to move forward with the environmental impact process without delay, enabling the timely beddown of these C-130Js," Ann Stefanek said in an emailed statement.

At least one of the Republican politicians involved in January's runoff election almost immediately claimed credit for the announcement as a part of his service to his home state.

"This is extremely exciting news for Savannah's airmen and the entire coastal community," Sen. David Perdue, who faces Democrat Jon Ossoff in the runoff election on Jan. 5, said in a statement. "As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and proud senator for Georgia, I continue to focus on making sure our women and men in uniform always have the tools they need to carry out their missions, and that our state is at the forefront of that effort."

The statement from his office also included statements from Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard, touting "the unwavering support and leadership from Sen. David Perdue" who added that the new plans "put us in a position to take on this new equipment and make our country safer," as well as from the executive director of the Coastal Georgia Military Affairs Coalition, retired Col. Pete Hoffman, who said the decision "was driven in large part by Sen. Perdue."

Hoffman also extended his thanks to Sen. Kelly Loeffler, another Republican who faces a tough runoff race against Democrat Raphael Warnock.

Only 24 of the aircraft are currently ready to deploy, so the Air Force currently plans to send eight C-130Js to each of the three bases previously approved to receive them in Kentucky, Texas and West Virginia, pending the outcome of standard "environmental assessments."

"Georgia will receive new aircraft if they become available in the future," the Air Force said in a public statement on Wednesday.

Copyright 2020 U.S. News & World Report

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