LoBiondo Urges Corzine to Re-Open 177th Training Area as First Anniversary of Closure Has Come and Gone

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? A staunch advocate for the readiness of our armed forces, U.S. Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02) again today sent a letter to New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine urging him to allow the National Guard?s 177th Fighter Wing to re-open the Warren Grove Gunnery Range. This week marked the first anniversary of the release of the Accident Investigation Board report on the May 2007 fire that was sparked by a dropped flare. The facility is the primary training range for the 177th Fighter Wing out of Egg Harbor Township.

LoBiondo has twice previously petitioned the Governor to review the completed comprehensive safety plan, enact its recommendations and allow the 177th to reopen the Range for key training operations to recommence, saving millions in taxpayer dollars. Despite being briefed by the U.S. Air Force one year ago tomorrow and reviewing the safety recommendations, the Governor continues to block use of Warren Grove by the 177th Fighter Wing.

LoBiondo, who sits on the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, sent the following letter to Governor Corzine:

Dear Governor Corzine:

As you know, Tuesday, July 22, 2008, was the one year anniversary of the release of the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) report conducted by the United States Air Force (USAF) on the May 15, 2007, incident at Warren Grove Gunnery Range (the Range). Tomorrow it will have been one year since the USAF briefed you, Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, and Congressman Saxton and myself on the AIB report. I am writing on this anniversary to once again implore you to approve the safety plan formulated over a year ago and to allow the 177th Air National Guard (ANG) Fighter Wing to reopen and begin immediate use of the Range.

In previous letters in May and December of last year, I outlined the importance of the Range to the 177th, other Active and Reserve Component units, and federal, state, and local agencies which have been denied access to the Range for more than a year now (436 days to be precise). The unique training opportunities of the Range serve military units from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and many other states, allowing joint training exercises between air assets and ground forces. These joint exercises closely replicate actual combat and help save lives in combat.

Without the Warren Grove Gunnery Range, this vital training has been moved to less flexible, less capable and more distant ranges. For instance, the 177th has been forced to use ranges in Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania, (95 miles away) and Dare County, North Carolina (230 miles away). Using these ranges adds up to 40 minutes of flight time to each training sortie. While this may not seem like a long time, the effects on training and the increased costs are substantial. The most conservative estimate for the cost to the 177th is $1.5 million due to increased use of fuel, accelerated maintenance, and more sorties to accomplish required training. This estimate does not include the cost of lower quality training for pilots, the increased flight hours being logged on F-16s which are already beginning to run out of flight hours, or lack of joint training opportunities which help air and ground forces work together and saves lives. The cost to other military units and others which can no longer use the Range is conservatively estimated to be an additional $4.4 million.

As I have explained to you in the past, the close proximity of the Range to the 177th?s home base also makes for easy access to training options not available to other units. As you know, these benefits weighed heavily in the 2005 BRAC Commission?s decision to keep the 177th open. Without the Range in the next BRAC round, the 177th could very well face closure.

Of course, safety is a key concern to the reopening of the Range. I believe the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board Report conducted by the United States Air Force provided an independent, thoughtful examination and explanation of the accident. The New Jersey Air National Guard and the 177th have formulated a plan to address the deficiencies outlined in the Report, as well as other safety procedures which needed to be updated and improved which were ready and able to be implemented on December 6, 2007.

It is my understanding the plan has been repeatedly provided to your office for review and that you and your legal staff have been briefed on the plan several times. I further understand the concerns brought up in these briefings have been addressed. I strongly urge you to approve the safety plan and allow the 177th reopen and begin immediate use of the Range. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this serious matter.

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