LoBiondo Urges Corzine to Re-Open 177th Training Area

Closed Nearly 7 Months Ago, Warren Grove Remains Vital Training Facility for South Jersey Fighter Wing

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? A staunch advocate for servicemen and women, U.S. Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02) today sent a letter to New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine urging him to re-open the Warren Grove Gunnery Range, which has remained closed since a May fire initiated by dropped flares. The facility, which is the primary training range for the National Guard?s 177th Fighter Wing out of Egg Harbor Township, was scheduled to recommence limited flyovers on December 6, 2007 after a comprehensive safety plan that would again allow for use of the range was submitted to the Governor for his review. Desp ite 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:

It has come to my attention you have halted the planned reopening of the Warren Grove Gunnery Range (WGGR) due to some concerns you have about the procedures developed to ensure the safe operation of the range. I am deeply concerned your decision to further delay the Range?s reopening will negatively impact the readiness of the United States Armed Forces.

It is my understanding the 177th Air National Guard Fighter Wing has developed a comprehensive plan to address the problems which caused an accidental fire this spring and help prevent future potential accidents. The 177th was slated to begin limited flyovers of WGGR on December 6, 2007, in order to validate the procedures to be implemented for the safe operation of the Range without any weapons or flares even being on the planes, much less dropped.

As I stated in my May 23, 2007, letter to you, Warren Grove Gunnery Range is a vital training facility not only for the 177th, but also for other Air Force, Army, Marine, and National Guard units in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. It is my understanding the prolonged closure may be causing decreased readiness in troops and units being deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan , as WGGR provides unique joint training opportunities.

Further, the Range is a key asset to the 177th and its continued existence and operation in Southern New Jersey. The close proximity to the 177th?s home base makes for easy access to training options not available to other units. This proximity saves time and fuel associated with traveling hundreds of miles to train on less versatile bases. 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. In the intervening eight months since the fire, the 177th has continued to fly and train, but at increased costs in terms of money and time and decreased opportunity to fully utilize scarce training flight hours.

Of course, safety is a key concern to the eventual full 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 6th .

As you know, the men and women of the 177th are not just soldiers, but are also citizen soldiers who live and work in the communities affected by operations at the 177th and surrounding the Range. They are the most familiar and the most invested in the safe operation of the Range. In the event, the 177th loses operational control of WGGR, the United States Air Force could assign command and control operations over the Range to another entity not accountable to New Jersey and its citizens.

To ensure the readiness of our Armed Forces, the success of the 177th?s mission, and to keep operational control of the Range in New Jersey, I strongly urge you to reconsider suspending the 177th?s validation flights of the safety procedures. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this serious matter.

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