The recent deployment of Idaho Air National Guard members based at Gowen Field has reinforced that installation’s importance to our community and its role in our national security. The deployment of the 124th Fighter Wing to the Middle East to combat ISIS serves as a stark reminder of the work still to be done to secure a long-term flying mission for Gowen and the men and women stationed there, many of whom are Boiseans.
As you may have heard, the U.S. Air Force plans to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog,” the primary aircraft stationed at Gowen Field. Though Congress continues to oppose retiring the A-10 — praised by both the pilots who fly them and the ground troops they support — it is clear the ground-attack jet will be retired one day. That leaves Gowen Field’s long-term fate unclear, despite its record as an ideal candidate for a new flying mission.
However, we are cautiously optimistic that we have turned the corner in the effort to keep Gowen and its $155 million annual economic impact as a major part of Boise’s future. For example, as part of the assessment of Gowen Field’s mission, the Air Force at one time planned to move its operations and personnel to Mountain Home Air Force Base. Those plans have been abandoned, in no small part due to the efforts of community leaders across our city and state who came together to form Gowen Strong. This group with nearly 2,800 followers helped convince the USAF of this community’s support of the approximately 1,300 Guard members who serve at Gowen.
We fully appreciate concerns some have about a change in mission at Gowen — especially those worried about the potential for more noise if a plane like the ultra-modern F-35 Lightning II is stationed there. As a point of policy, the city of Boise supports a long-term, stand-alone mission for Gowen. But the ultimate decision rests with the Air Force, and its process will include many factors, including the variety of impacts on the community. While some preliminary work has been done on the “what if” noise scenarios, the Air Force’s process for coming to a decision is still in the early stages.
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Since Gowen Field was established in the late 1940s, when Jimmy Stewart trained and flew there, its mission has changed as military priorities have evolved. From its first active duty deployment in the Korean War to current efforts in the Middle East, Gowen Field has remained home to an air combat mission for the Idaho Air National Guard and has been the home to nine different fighter aircraft. Now it is time to look to that next mission, and we are committed to ensuring that Gowen Field serves a similar role in the future.
Until a long-term mission for the 124th Fighter Wing at Gowen is secured, my office, along with everyone who has come together to keep Gowen Strong, will continue to make Gowen Field’s case to all who will listen.
Dave Bieter is serving his fourth term as mayor of Boise.