Michigan and warthogs, a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story

The name “warthog” hardly conjures up warm and fuzzy images.

Nor should it, since it is a powerful aircraft used especially in difficult situations.

Northeast Michigan residents might want to change their opinion on that beast, however, as it plays an important role in the region’s future.

In fact, this is a “Beauty and the Beast” story involving a warthog, a gutsy U.S. senator, and how the two of them forged an alliance that ultimately impacted the future of the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and all of us who live in the region.

The U.S. senator is Michigan’s own Gary Peters, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Peters and fellow Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow were upset with Defense Department officials who recently chose Arkansas over Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan for an international F-35 training center.

And, in a gutsy show of frustration, Peters and Stabenow joined together and blocked President Joe Biden’s nomination of Frank Kendall as Air Force Secretary, along with nine other appointments. According to Defense News, the appointments were held in limbo for nearly a month.

“The move ended a successful gambit in which Peters used the holds as leverage against the Biden administration to secure the future of Michigan’s Selfridge Air National Guard Base as a military aviation hub in the Midwest,” the Defense News reported.

A significant number of “warthogs,” or A-10 aircraft, are stationed at Selfridge. While some Air Force officials have pushed for retiring the aircraft, others have strongly pushed for updating it with new technology and continuing using it in battle.

The aircraft is unique in that it can lower itself in position much like a helicopter would and let loose on its target a variety of weapons. It allows pilots a much closer approach to enemy positions and is especially effective in a counterterrorism role, as well as in search-and-rescue missions. Its ability to operate in tight corners will be on display this week as it is one of the aircraft that will practice landing on M-32, thus necessitating a detour for five hours on Thursday.

As all that was taking place, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed out of committee a bill that includes preservation of the A-10 “warthogs” at Selfridge, as well as significant funding for the Alpena CRTC.

Peters said the bill authorizes $23 million in funding to go toward a new, state-of-the-art, fifth-generation aircraft hangar and accompanying maintenance facilities at the CRTC.

“This funding will ensure that Alpena is capable of hosting the most modern aircrafts and that the facility can continue to serve as a premier training venue for our servicemembers and play a vital role in our national security,” Peters said.

Additionally, it includes a special designation for Alpena that Peters pushed for which will ensure that the Air Force and the Army continue to utilize Alpena and have it serve as a testing ground for the latest in defense technologies.

“This language coupled with the infrastructure investments will guarantee that Alpena continues to serve for decades to come as the venue of choice for the Air Force, Air National Guard and foreign partners who need access to wide open airspace, the finest ranges and the best capabilities,” Peters said.

The Alpena CRTC controls the largest air space east of the Mississippi to conduct aircraft exercises, with more than 17,000 square miles of special-use airspace.

How important do you believe Peters’ move was? As Operation Northern Strike is taking place at the CRTC right now, with all military branches represented, as well as international military groups, it highlights the CRTC’s importance here.

“This exercise serves as a great opportunity for our multicomponent, multinational, and interagency partners to develop into efficient, joint warfighters,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “Training like we may be called on to fight is critical in preparing to confront a near-peer adversary in the future.

“Michigan is fortunate to have Senator Peters as an advocate who works to advance our priorities and ensures the Michigan National Guard receives the federal investments necessary to support all of our missions,” he added.

Northeast Michigan owes a lot to Peters this year, as well as to the warthog.

With apologies to Disney, this is a real “Beauty and the Beast” story for today.

Bill Speer recently retired as the publisher and editor of The News. He can be reached at bspeer@thealpenanews.com.


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