Murray Launches New Bellingham Air Wing to Improve Security at the Northern Border

Aug 20 2004

Murray helps dedicate nation's first Northern Border Air Patrol Wing

(Bellingham, WA) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray helped launch a new air wing to patrol the Northern Border. The Bellingham Air & Marine Branch is the first of five Northern Border Air Wings. Murray's Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee funded the Bellingham Wing in the FY 2004 appropriation bill.

Senator Murray's remarks as prepared for delivery follow:

Thank you, Congressman Larsen. It's been a pleasure to work with you on so many issues, and I'm proud that we can share this victory for cities like Bellingham and for communities across Washington state.

I'd like to thank all of you for being here today. I want to welcome Director Stallworth to Bellingham and to the great state of Washington. I know that Undersecretary Hutchinson had hoped to be here, and I thank him for his support on Northern Border issues. I have enjoyed working directly with the Undersecretary to confront our nation’s security challenges. I've always appreciated his willingness to make himself available to discuss these matters in an open and frank manner.

The Northern Border Is Finally Getting Its Due

Today I feel like the Northern Border is finally getting its due. After years of inadequate resources, we're leading the way with a new air patrol that will eventually stretch from here to the Atlantic Ocean. It will make our border communities and our nation safer.

For those of us who represent Northern Border communities, it's often been an uphill battle to get the resources and attention we need from policymakers in Washington, D.C. For years, we've seen the lion's share of funding and resources go to the Southern Border.

I can remember years of budgets and Senate hearings when it was a struggle just to get other Senators to understand the challenges we face here. But the threat is real – as we saw in December 1999 – when a terrorist tried to sneak explosives into the U.S. through Port Angeles.

And working together, we've made progress. I used my seat on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee to triple enforcement at the border and make sure policymakers understand how delays at the border hurt the region's economy and how increased enforcement at the border strains our criminal justice system.

So for our region to be selected as the first-in-the-nation for this new Air Wing is a great recognition of what we've been saying for years. By having the nation's first Northern Border air wing here in Bellingham, we're telling terrorists, drug smugglers, and those who would do us harm that we're watching the border and we will catch you.

How This Air Wing Was Created

I want to share how this Air Wing came to be funded. After the horrible events of September 11th, the Senate created the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. I became a member of that committee so that I could speak up for our Northern Border and the other challenges we face in Washington state.

As you'll recall after September 11th, military jets patrolled the skies over several American cities, but there were no permanently-assigned air resources here at the Northern Border associated with the Air and Marine Interdiction Program.

In the months following the attacks, I worked to convince my colleagues on the Senate Homeland Security Committee that we needed to expand our efforts to include permanent monitoring of air activity along the northern border. Part of that effort was creating this air wing, which we funded by adding $71.6 million to the Senate’s FY04 Homeland Security Appropriations bill.

While the Administration’s original budget request included no funding last year for our air wing, the House Appropriations Committee position made the task of commissioning this air wing even more difficult.

Not only was there no money in the House bill, but members of the House Appropriations Committee allowed language into their bill that would have actually delayed implementation of this critical security asset. I found the House position unacceptable – and still do.

But I knew we needed to get these planes and pilots in the air so I used my position on the conference committee to fight for the funding and ultimately, we got $35.2 million to establish this air wing.

It’s been a long road -- nearly three years since the September 11th attacks, 11 months since we funded this important tool in the fight against terrorism and crime, and three months since this airplane was delivered to Director Stallworth in Washington, DC.

But today, all of the work has paid off, and I couldn’t be more proud. Because of this air wing, our northern border communities are safer, Washington state is safer, and the entire Pacific Northwest is safer.

There's More to Do -- Three Priorities

So today, we're making progress, but there is more work to do. As I conclude, I want to highlight three of the things I'll be working on. First, we need to need to get the other four Air Wings up and running so that our entire Northern Border is secure. Secretary Hutchinson and Director Stallworth know that I will continue to be a strong advocate and will help them fund these important assets as quickly as possible.

Second, we need to make sure our first responders have the resources they need to do their jobs as quickly and effectively as possible. Police, fire and EMS workers in border communities like Bellingham are our ultimate first-responders. They must have the tools to work in cooperation with our federal agencies and the Canadian government. Without our local police, our eyes in the sky won’t be as successful as we need them to be, and that takes money. That’s why I'll continue fighting for additional resources to help our local first responders protect us.

And, beginning today, I will work with Secretary Hutchinson, Director Stallworth and my colleagues in the Senate to fund the $5 million it will take to improve communications between this air wing and our state and local law enforcement professionals. I know that Bellingham and Whatcom County alone should not be forced to shoulder all the costs of homeland security. The border is a federal border. Security is a federal responsibility, and that's why I'll continue to fight to make the federal government a full partner in our security efforts.

Third, we need to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. I'm pleased that the Administration has gotten on board with some of these recommendations, but we need to move quickly to protect our communities.

I hope that today's dedication and launch gives us some momentum to continue making progress on the security challenges before us. This new air wing is a powerful new tool in our efforts to combat terrorism, drug smuggling and stop other criminals from coming across our border. I'm so proud to have been a partner in the effort to bring this air wing to Bellingham, and I'm thrilled that this effort began in the committee on which I serve. Together, we can make sure Washington state is a strong front line in the war on terror.