The secretary of the Air Force recently announced Gowen Field and the Idaho Air National Guard as a preferred alternative to receive the F-35 fighter aircraft.
It is an honor to be among the top five contenders across the nation to receive the world’s most technologically advanced aircraft. As a preferred alternative, we remain a viable option should the Air Force determine that one of the two primary candidates is unfit for the mission. We will now prepare for the Environmental Impact Statement study, which will highlight our long history of outstanding environmental stewardship.
I remain certain that the superior facilities, airspace, training ranges and proven record of performance by the men and women of the Idaho Air National Guard make Gowen Field the best location to base an F-35 squadron. I also remain absolutely confident that the 124th Fighter Wing, equipped with the combat-proven A-10, remains a relevant and lethal war-fighting asset in our nation’s defense.
The key takeaway from this arduous selection process is the undeniable display of support for the Idaho National Guard from our citizens and communities. This fall, over 100,000 of you attended our first open house in over 20 years. We are truly blessed to serve in a state where citizens, from the governor to the Legislature, mayors, private and public organizations, all go above and beyond to support members of the Idaho National Guard and our efforts to remain modernized and relevant.
Beyond the Idaho National Guard’s presence here at Gowen Field, the Idaho Army National Guard is represented throughout the state in nearly two dozen communities. Idaho’s largest unit, the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, received extensive community and employer support during its recent expansion, reorganization and increased training requirements, resulting in improved retention of soldiers in this critical, premier unit. Additionally, the legislative and community support to the Idaho National Guard’s Youth ChalleNge Academy in Pierce and the STARBASE program in Boise have been instrumental in providing high-quality programs that greatly benefit Idaho youth in their educational pursuits.
It is reassuring to know that Idaho values the National Guard’s contributions to the safety and security of our state and nation in times of war and domestic emergencies. The success of the Idaho National Guard is a direct reflection of the outstanding support we receive from our community. This success contributes to economic prosperity and a higher quality of life for Idaho citizens. The Idaho Guard mission provides over $440 million in economic impact to Idaho, employing over 5,200 citizens.
I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Gov. Otter, Mayor Bieter, and our other state and local elected officials and agencies, the surrounding business community, along with numerous public and private organizations — specifically Idaho Power and Micron — that have demonstrated such overwhelming support during our pursuit of the F-35 mission.
Most of all, I wish to thank the citizens of Idaho for continuing to stand behind the soldiers and airmen of the Idaho National Guard, as you always have.
Brig. Gen. Michael J. Garshak is the adjutant general of Idaho and commander of the Idaho National Guard.