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Growlers may mean fewer jobs
In April 2003, I submitted a letter to the editor concerning the basing of the EA-6Bs replacement, the EA-18G Growler, at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. I pointed out that if the Growler was based here, we would see a reduction in force (RIF) at the base.
We now know that the Growler will be based at Whidbey but no one seems to be concerned about the upcoming RIF. This RIF will have a significant impact on the areas economy, school population, housing market, etc. Unless there are delays in the Growlers development, the first operational squadron is scheduled for 2009. The Growler is to be less expensive for the Navy to maintain and operate. What is my reasoning for a RIF at NASWI with the EA-18G?
The initial effect of this replacement has already occurred, the reduction in the size of the APZs (Accident Potential Zones) for each runway. The reduction is a result of an expected 19 percent reduction in expected flight operations with the Growler as compared to what there are now. Why are there fewer flights?
First, three EA-6B squadrons will be decommissioned. This means not only fewer flights but also a loss of nearly 900 military jobs.
Secondly, the initial flight training for the Growler will be conducted at NAS Lemoore with VAQ-129 at Whidbey. Only the systems portion of the Growler training will be conducted by VAQ-129; thus a reduction in flights and instructor positions.
Third, each operational squadron will have five Growlers. A squadron generally has 1.5 aircrews per assigned aircraft. So each squadron will see a RIF of 10 officers. With 9 operational squadrons this means a RIF of 90 officers. In addition, each squadron will have fewer enlisted maintainers and support personnel.
Fourth, the Marine EA-6B training will have to be relocated to MCAS Cherry Point as VAQ-129 will no longer have any EA-6B aircraft. A further reduction in the number of flights and personnel at NASWI.
Then there are the RIF in enlisted and civilian personnel that currently support the larger number of EA-6B aircraft and operations as well as those who support these people. This not only includes the operational squadrons but VAQ-129, AIMD, PSD, enlisted maintenance training and support commands, and support groups like medical, dental, berthing, messing, and etc. Since 99 percent of the Growler systems are common with the F/A-18 one can expect that both the maintenance training and actual repair of these common items will be done at existing F/A-18 facilities at Lemoore.
In January 2005, a request was submitted to the Navy for a document that would provide the numbers of enlisted personnel in each Growler squadron as well as the plans for their training. The request was denied. The Navy said the document was in a draft form and thus not subject to a FOIA request. So based on experience and limited knowledge of the Navys plans it is possible we could see a loss of 1,500 to 2,500 jobs at NAS Whidbey over the next few years. This size of RIF will have a significant impact on the entire community, including the schools.
Could Oak Harbor have the same problem that Ridgecrest, Calif., had when the Navy eliminated about the same number of jobs at the Naval Weapons Center China Lake in the early 1990s? So many people had to leave the area to find work that property values fell by over 70 percent as people abandoned their homes. Businesses closed, schools were also closed. For over ten years construction of all types came to a virtual standstill. It was not until the BRAC 2005 added nearly 2,500 new jobs at China Lake have things begun to turn around.
Will this happen to Oak Harbor? Without acknowledging the possibility, then planning for the RIF, it could happen here.
By STEPHEN SMITH
Stephen Smith lives in Oak Harbor.