Mar 7, 2012 6:16 AM by TIM TALLEY
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The U.S. Air Force said Tuesday it is deactivating a communications unit at Tinker Air Force Base that employs about 600 people, a loss that U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said will be devastating.
Air Force Space Command officials said the 3rd Combat Communications Group at Tinker will be deactivated as part of overall changes within the Air Force. The unit provides communications, computer systems, navigational aids and air traffic control.
"We made a deliberate decision to avoid a 'hollow force' by prioritizing readiness over force structure," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said. "A smaller, ready force is preferable to a larger force that is ill-prepared because it lacks adequate resources."
The Air Force's plans were revealed earlier Tuesday by Inhofe, R-Okla., a member of Senate Armed Services Committee who said eliminating the unit known as the Third Herd could hurt national security.
"While additional cuts from the Air Force were expected, completely doing away with the Third Herd at Tinker is extremely disappointing," Inhofe said in a statement. "These cuts, including the elimination of the Third Herd, an award winning group with a rich history of fighting for this country, jeopardize our future capability at a time of international insecurity."
Gov. Mary Fallin said Oklahoma's Air Force bases are important parts of their local communities and play a vital role in the nation's defense.
"The decision to eliminate hundreds of military and civilian Air Force personnel will mean Oklahoma will lose jobs and the United States Air Force will be without quality units like the Third Herd," Fallin said.
The Air Force announcement said deactivation of the Tinker unit is in accordance with President Barack Obama's call to shrink the military. The Pentagon is already on track to reduce projected spending by $487 billion over 10 years.
"The Air Force is reducing deployable communications capabilities to match the reduction in combat air forces," said Col. Joseph Scherrer, 689th Combat Communications Wing commander. The cuts are the biggest so far at an Oklahoma military base as the Defense Department adjusts to the new budget priorities.
Inhofe accused Obama of attempting to disarm the military.
"Since taking office, President Obama has continued to cut our military year after year," Inhofe said. "At the same time he has run up over $5 trillion in deficit spending."
Fallin said Obama is cutting military spending while the cost of entitlements and social programs continue to rise.
"This is yet another instance of misplaced priorities and a policy agenda that is dangerously out of touch," she said.
So far, Tinker Air Force Base has lost 948 military and civilian jobs, including the 600 job losses announced Tuesday, Inhofe said. Altus Air Force Base has lost 109 jobs; Vance Air Force Base has lost 31 jobs; and 43 jobs have been cut from military units based at Will Rogers World Airport, he said.
"I will do all I can to fight these cuts," the senator said.
While it is eliminating the unit at Tinker, the Air Force said it will maintain another combat communications unit through the 5th Combat Communications Group at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
The Air Force statement did not say when the Tinker unit will be deactivated but indicated airmen in it will be reassigned.
"Our primary responsibility right now is to take care of our airmen and their families in the 3CCG as they begin to transition to other units," Scherrer said.
A spokesman for Tinker, Brion Ockenfels, had no immediate comment.