(Washington, D.C.) - Under questioning from U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) today, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said the Air Force is
At a hearing of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Murray told the Secretary and Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley that the 36th provides critical support for the Air Force Survival School and also saves lives by performing hundreds of civilian search and rescue operations in a four-state region.
When Murray asked the Secretary to explain the reason for eliminating the funding, Wynne said that the Air Force had not paid enough attention to how the helicopters contribute to the broader community.
"We may have in that area taken a little bit too much risk, and so we are thinking about where do we go and take the money from, frankly, to reconstitute that force," Wynne said. "It seems to me we have a mission, and we have a real need, and it's bigger than the Air Force mission, which I don't think really hit home."
After the hearing, Murray said she's pleased with the Air Force's reversal.
"The Air Force has finally heard us and now recognizes that the 36th Rescue Flight plays a critical role not just for the Air Force but for the surrounding community," Murray said. "Now the Secretary needs to follow through by restoring the funding that will keep those helicopters and crews at Fairchild where they belong."
Secretary Wynne told Murray that said the Air Force is currently exploring two questions: How many helicopters should remain at Fairchild, and where the funding would come from to keep them there.
Wynne said he believes that all four helicopters may be needed to ensure that at least one of the older helicopters is always operational. As for funding, Wynne told Murray, "Ma'am, I don't know where I'd get the money right now, but I'm gonna look hard."
The 36th Rescue Flight has been based at Fairchild AFB since 1973. This year, however, the President's budget for FY 2008 eliminated funding for the 36th Rescue Flight at Fairchild. On March 14th, Senator Murray and 11 delegation members from Washington and Oregon wrote to the House and Senate chairmen of the Armed Services committees asking them to restore funding for the 36th.