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Published: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @ 5:18 PM
The leader of the Air Force Thunderbirds was fired from the high-profile post after his commanding general lost confidence in the pilot, according to the Air Force.
Lt. Col. Jason Heard, who commanded the team during a visit in Dayton in June, led a “highly successful show season,” but his commanding officer “lost confidence in his leadership and risk management style,” an Air Force statement said.
Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, commander of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada where the team is based, removed Heard from the top pilot’s job.
“This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but one that is ultimately in the best interests of the Thunderbird team,” she said in a statement. “I am personally grateful for Jason’s dedication to the 2017 season.”
Heard, who flew the No. 1 jet, was in his first year of a two-year tour of duty with the famed team that flies six red, white and blue F-16 Fighting Falcons in tight aerobatic formations.
His removal was effective Nov. 20, at the conclusion of the 2017 show season, the Air Force said.
Additional details were not released on the reason behind the firing. But the team had a major mishap in Dayton on June 23 when a Thunderbird jet slid off a wet runway and flipped over in a grassy area at Dayton International Airport a day before the Thunderbirds were set to perform in the Vectren Dayton Air Show.
Capt. Erik Gonsalves, the No. 8 team pilot who did not fly in show formations but narrated performances, suffered leg injuries and was hospitalized for several days at Miami Valley Hospital. A crew member who was a passenger in the two-seat F-16D was not injured.
After the accident, the team canceled weekend appearances at the air show. Heard spoke about the incident at a televised press conference in Dayton after the mishap.
In an accident investigation report released this month, the Air Force said excessive speed and landing too far down the runway contributed to the mishap that destroyed the $29 million fighter plane.
The team’s canceled Dayton appearances marked the second consecutive year a military jet team scrubbed flying at the Dayton Air Show.
In 2016, the Navy’s Blue Angels canceled several performances, including in Dayton, after a fatal crash killed a pilot during a practice air show in Tennessee.
Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2018 @ 4:02 PM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Wright-Patterson Air Force Base furloughed about 8,600 civil service employees during a short-lived federal government closure, the most at the state’s largest single-site employer since a shutdown last struck less than five years ago.
Federal employees who were furloughed or who worked during a three-day partial federal government closure Saturday through Monday will be paid under legislation Congress endorsed to end the standoff.
But many who left the job or were told to keep working during the shutdown harbor concerns it could happen once more when a short-term stopgap funding measure that reopened the government ends Feb. 8, according to Troy Tingey, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 214.
The council represents thousands of workers at Wright-Patterson.
“They’re very frustrated out there in the shops, very frustrated and worry that it could happen again,” said Tingey, who is at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and took calls from Air Force employees across the country. “… I was probably getting a call every five or 10 minutes yesterday for the first four hours.”
A shutdown ‘routine’
While this short-lived closure wasn’t expected to have a large impact on base operations, it has created instability and concern it’s now a routine, according to Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.
“The long-term effect of this is instability in the government and one more reason for government workers to be frustrated with their employer,” he said. “This kind of thing which now happens on a regular basis makes it difficult to retain and recruit the best talent which Wright-Patterson needs.
“Because the shutdown was so short, it is not likely to have significant effects on the operations of Wright-Patterson, but cumulatively this kind of thing can be very detrimental, and it’s not just to Wright-Patterson. It’s to federal installations all over the country.”
Since September, Congress has passed four short term spending resolutions while it attempts to pass a fully funded budget that includes defense spending for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The latest impasse between Democrats and Republicans sparked a standoff that led to the shutdown.
In October 2013, a partial federal government shutdown sent about 8,700 civil service workers at the base on furlough.
“Given that a shutdown should never occur, there is no reason that there should ever be a government shutdown happening this close on the heels of the last shutdown, it’s moving to routine,” Gessel said. “Some of the federal agencies simply took their 2013 shutdown plans and implemented them.”
Air Force museum reopens
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force reopened Tuesday. The sprawling complex, home to hundreds of airplanes and an iconic presidential aircraft collection, closed after opening four hours Saturday.
Spokeswoman Diana Bachert said the museum opened at 9 a.m. Saturday and had not yet received a closure order from the Air Force Materiel Command.
Once the order was in hand, the museum closed by 1 p.m. after nearly 1,500 people had entered and scheduled activities were canceled.
By comparison, over the same three-day period in January 2017, nearly 4,700 people visited on a Saturday, 2,220 on a Sunday, and about 600 on a Monday, museum statistics show.
The museum also furloughed about 95 workers during the brief shutdown.
The National Park Service’s Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center near Wright-Patterson and the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center in Dayton shuttered Saturday and remained closed while more than a dozen staff members were furloughed.
The centers were due to reopen during normally scheduled seasonal hours Wednesday, according to acting park superintendent Kendell Thompson.
Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 5:30 AM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Filled with life-like medical mannequins, dark cargo plane fuselages and a centrifuge that spins humans in circles at high speed, the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine is unlike most schools.
One of the biggest prizes gained at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in recent years, the school marked its 100th anniversary in ceremonies Friday.
The $194.5 million school opened in a sprawling new building at Wright-Patterson in 2011 after eight decades in Texas. The move was part of a base realignment and closure process in 2005 that brought about 1,200 jobs to Wright-Patterson. Most of those were in aerospace medicine and sensors research from sites in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts and New York.
“We’ve been training flight surgeons for 100 years,” said Col. Alden Hilton, the school’s commander. Today, it also educates flight nurses, enlisted aeromedical technicians, and critical care medical teams, among others.
“These medical personnel are already experienced clinicians,” Hilton said. “But it’s very different to practice medicine in the back of an airplane where it’s dark, very, very noisy and vibration and other movements and what you have with you is all that you’ve got.”
The massive school traces its origins to Hazelhurst Field, N.Y., where it opened as the Medical Research Laboratory of the Air Service in 1918 in the infancy of Army aviation.
A faculty and staff of about 950 train 4,000 students a year at Wright-Patterson. The school trains airmen in aeromedical evacuations of wounded troops from combat zones to hospitals, has an epidemiology and environmental lab to analyze samples from bases around the world, and researches how to improve human performance with technology as part of the mission of the 711th Human Performance Wing.
Wright-Patterson marked it’s 100th anniversary in 2017.
Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 5:00 AM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — The specter of a partial federal government shutdown looms at midnight Friday, but many federal employees feel “immune” to the threat of being sent home in a repeated cycle of last-minute stopgap spending measures to avert a shutdown, union leaders say.
“I think employees are actually getting immune to it,” said Troy Tingey, president of the American Federal of Government Employees Council 214, which represents several thousand employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
But many also have lost patience.
“A lot of them are starting to look for other career fields in the private sector,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. “They’ve had about enough of this.” And some are rethinking who should represent them in Congress, he added.
Congressional leaders are faced with the prospect for the fourth time since September voting for a short-term spending measure – called a continuing resolution – to avoid a government shutdown through mid-February. The consequences of a shutdown would likely furlough thousands of civil service workers at Wright-Patterson, as it did in 2013.
The House passed a stopgap spending measure in a 230-to 197-vote late Thursday. The bill now heads to the Senate where its fate was uncertain Friday.
President Donald Trump injected confusion by tweeting Thursday that a children’s health care program should not be part of a short-term budget agreement. The White House quickly said Trump indeed supports the House GOP measure, which would extend the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, for six years and keep the government’s doors open through Feb. 16.
Waiting for word
Although a base spokesperson said Wright-Patterson has not received instructions to prepare for a shutdown, the last time a closure happened some civil service employees, such as police, fire, and medical workers, or those who were involved with the protection of life and property, were exempt. Military personnel stayed on the job.
Even so, when they report to work, they would likely not be paid until a funding deal was reached, two Wright-Patterson firefighter union leaders said.
“There is some stresses for some of our guys because they aren’t sure what’s going to happen,” said Brian Grubb, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local F88 at Wright-Patterson.
“I think for some of the newer employees that haven’t had to navigate this or just not knowing how long this potential shutdown could be …. there’s that uncertainty,” said Steven E. McKee, Local F88 secretary-treasurer and a firefighter.
“I can’t imagine a Google, Facebook or Ford Motor co. … running as inefficiently,” McKee said, adding “it’s a huge impediment, a hindrance and it’s not right. It’s not fair to either the federal worker and or the citizen.”
Tingey said many members have lost confidence in Congress and the White House.
“When we get out there and we talk to (employees), they just have lost all confidence and respect in not only in (the) House and Senate, but in the administration as a whole,” he said.
U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, both members of the House Armed Services Committee, indicated Thursday they would vote for stopgap funding to keep the government open.
“We’re in the sad position of having to vote for another continuing resolution which shortchanges our military and our men and women in uniform,” said Turner, who has Wright-Patterson in his congressional district. “I believe that will pass the House … and then the Senate will be in a position to on a short-term basis continuing funding the government.
“The Senate has to stop holding the budget deal hostage,” Turner added. “They refuse to negotiate and discuss the budget deal until immigration is resolved and the government hasn’t been funded since the end of September. These are unrelated issues. They need to proceed in a decoupled fashion and it’s doing real damage to our military that Senate Democrat leadership continues to take that stand.”
Democrats are demanding a deal on legislation to offer protection from deportation to younger immigrants who were brought to the country as children and now are here illegally as a prerequisite for any longer-term government funding agreement. They say the four-week duration of the House continuing resolution is too long and would take the pressure off of immigration negotiations.
“We can’t keep careening from short-term CR to short-term CR. If this bill passes, there’ll be no incentive to negotiate and we’ll be right back here in a month with the same problems at our feet,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.“Eventually, we need to make progress on the biggest issues before us.”
Wenstrup said lawmakers were “diligently” trying to prevent a shutdown.
“I think we’ll get there, but I’ve been wrong before,” he said.
Funding the military is the highest priority with the threats the United States faces around the world, he said.
“Although a CR likely will not have what we want in terms of funding our military fully, a CR is probably our least bad option and closing down the government is an even worse option,” said Wenstrup, who added a shutdown would mean training for National Guard and reserve troops would stop.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has not indicate how he will vote on a short-term funding measure. He is waiting to see what is in the legislation before making a decision, his office said Thursday.
“There is no reason for a government shutdown,” the senator said in a statement. “Congress needs to come together and do its job.”
A spokeswoman for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Portman would vote yes on a short-term spending resolution.
“Rob believes both parties have a responsibility to keep the government funded and ensure safety and stability for all Americans, especially those serving in our armed forces,” spokeswoman Emily Benavides said in an email. “He will certainly vote to keep the government open.”
Follow the daytondailynews.com and mydaytondailynews.com for the latest news on a potential government shutdown Friday.
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 11:51 AM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Wright-Patterson will launch its first base-wide exercise of 2018 between Jan. 29 to Feb.5, authorities say.
Base personnel and visitors may be delayed getting through or out of gateways at times during the security exercise, officials said.