UPDATE: Missouri senators listen to military needs

Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 7:22 p.m. CDT; updated 8:53 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 20, 2014

ST. JOSEPH — Missouri's two U.S. senators met Thursday with the state's National Guard leaders, who outlined some of the needs for the northwest Missouri base — including a newer model aircraft.

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill listened as guard officials at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, home to the 139th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard, said the 139th is seeking to add a newer model aircraft, called a C-130 J, to its fleet of C-130s. Col. Ralph Schwader, wing commander, also said the base wants to obtain a flight simulator.

Blunt and McCaskill, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also signed a letter to the Secretary of Defense in February with about a dozen other senators expressing their concern for possible cuts to Army National Guard aviation assets.

"At a time when we're clearly rethinking defense and having to make arguments again that we made before and make them even more persuasively ... we want to be sure we're representing Rosecrans and St. Joseph in the very best possible way," Blunt said Thursday. "We're principally here to be sure we know what we need to know to make the arguments that are going to be collectively making."

McCaskill said, while she and Blunt would fight for both the simulator and the newer model aircraft for Rosecrans, she asked Schwader which would be more important for the base.

"There's no doubt it's the J model, because I think that's the future," Schwader said.

Blunt said he supported the idea of getting the newer aircraft for the base, which, among other duties, trains U.S. military and military from several other countries in the use of the C-130s.

"I think the point is to be the best training facility in the country on C-130s you have to have at least one copy of the best equipment, and that's what the J now is. ... You can't be the best training facility if you don't have the best equipment to train on," Blunt said.

McCaskill said while "there are a lot of moving pieces right now in the military in terms of how we're trying to save costs with less expensive infrastructure," she's hopeful of getting the newer aircraft for Rosecrans.

"But we're going to have to work hard to get it done. I mean everyone is scrambling," McCaskill said after the roundtable discussion. "There is not a senator that is not looking out after their aircraft right now. So if we get one from someone else we've got to arm wrestle one of our colleagues. But that doesn't mean we're not capable of doing that."


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