F-35 talks loom near Luke - East Valley Tribune: West Valley

F-35 talks loom near Luke

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Posted: Monday, June 27, 2011 3:00 pm | Updated: 7:47 am, Tue Jun 28, 2011.

The local and regional commanders of Air Force bases discussed the future and missions of their facilities Saturday during this year’s Air Force Association Southwest Regional Conference at the Wigwam Resort.

Brig. Gen. JD Harris of the 56th Fighter Wing of Luke Air Force Base; Col. Kirk Smith of 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico; Col. Jose Monteagudo of the 944th Fighter Wing at Luke; and Col. Gary Brewer of the 161st Unit at Sky Harbor participated on one of several panels.

As the F-16 fighter planes are phased out from Luke, Harris said the new F-35s may one day find a home at the West Valley facility.

Harris said several studies have been made and officials will have public town halls for residents in about three months where the F-35s will be discussed. A decision will be made in December about whether the F-35s are going to be placed at Luke, he said.

In addition, Harris said the base has been working with APS on a solar power plant on land at Luke. But plans have been delayed since work crews found artifacts on the land that date back to 500 B.C.

Archaeologists have been brought in to dig on the site, before they can move forward with the solar plant.

The 944th Wing at Luke consists of Air Force reserves, Monteagudo said. There are 700 members, but they hope to grow to 1,300 by the fiscal year 2012-13.

Brewer said there are 811 people involved in his unit, which goes on special missions and recently took a jet to Afghanistan to bring back wounded soldiers.

During the panel discussions, the commanders were asked about the support of families of deployed soldiers.

Harris said there are a number of programs at Luke for the 56th Fighter Wing, including an Airmen’s Family Readiness Center.

Monteaguado said there are a number challenges with providing support for reservists and their families.

“When our people come back, they go back into the work force and to their normal lives,” he said. “So it’s a little difficult because they go back to reality.”

Sandy Schlitt, chairman of the board for the Air Force Association, said the conference placed some of the most influential officers from the bases together to talk about issues.

“It’s pretty significant and great sounding board to what’s going on out in our bases,” he said.

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