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Thursday, May 8, 2014 12:01 am

A new mission for Springfield’s 183rd Fighter Wing

 The revered F-16 Fighting Falcon no longer roars over Springfield’s skies, but the 183rd Fighter Wing still has a role to play.

That was the message at a May 2 ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Capital Airport Air National Guard Station located at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield. The ceremony marked the completion of facility and technology upgrades to three buildings on the base.

The 183rd Fighter Wing has been based in Springfield since its inception in 1948, when it was known as the 170th Fighter Squadron. In the early days, the unit was a group of 60 men meeting in the State Armory one night each week. The unit has had several missions over the decades, including flying the F-16 fighter jet until 2008. Now, the unit handles a variety of jobs, including training Air Force recruits, providing military police services, operating a military communications hub and repairing jet engines.

The recently completed $24 million federally funded project included the renovation of the unit’s communications building, the consolidation of the unit’s security forces into one control center, and upgrades to three buildings that make up the unit’s “Air Operations Group.” The AOG trains recruits for combat missions around the globe. More than 300 full-time military personnel and many more part-time personnel work at the base.

The new, multifaceted mission means certainty for the 183rd. A periodic “Base Realignment and Closure” (BRAC) process used by the federal government to reprioritize its military capabilities and spending means bases and military units find themselves under consideration for cuts and major changes every few years. The last BRAC process in 2005 resulted in Springfield’s F-16s being transferred to another base and the deactivation of the 170th Fighter Squadron, which was part of the 183rd Fighter Wing. By taking on multiple tasks, the 183rd Fighter Wing may have insulated itself somewhat from future BRAC rounds and positioned itself to take on new missions involving cybersecurity and remotely piloted aircraft.

“This facility will let this unit grow as America’s military defense grows,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, speaking to a crowd of elected officials and guardsmen during the ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 2.

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