It's been a vital piece of civic pride and air defense on the west coast, since 1948. The 144th fighter wing. But under a proposed federal budget cut, the 144th may be grounded, permanently. State Assemblymember Henry T. Perea says the elimination of the 144th would be a big setback for our local economy.
"We don't believe it makes sense, considering all of the investments that have been made in the 144th and the new F-15's. We think the number of jobs that will be lost, over a thousand jobs in the Fresno area, will have a significant impact on our already fragile economy."
Perea says the move would actually cost the government $1.2 million to shut down the 144th. And state opposition seems to be growing. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer sent a statement Thursday to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: "We strongly oppose any effort to eliminate the 144th fighter wing in Fresno and any delays to the transfer of F-15's to Fresno."
Perea says getting rid of the 144th doesn't just affect the economy. It would decrease a quickly responding defense on the west coast, in a world where terrorism is still a viable threat.
"It takes about six hours to mobilize six jets plus an additional twelve for backup out of Fresno, should there be a threat on the west coast. If we rely on other states to pick up the slack on that, it could be up to 72 hours for them to mobilize."
Perea says opposition to the shutdown is garnering rare bi-partisan support, statewide. And he hopes to take the first official step, to keep the 144th, up in the air.