The 122nd: More than a Fighter Wing

By Max Resnik

May 22, 2012 Updated May 22, 2012 at 6:33 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – News surrounding the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard has mostly consisted of proposed cuts of personnel and A-10 aircraft, but there are more than jets that occupy Fort Wayne’s base.

Peering from beyond its fence, there is little to be seen at the 122nd. It sits in south Fort Wayne, adjoined to the Fort Wayne International Airport, hidden behind a barrier of security with the occasional flyover of A-10 aircraft. It is a base that has existed since World War II and is the workplace for some 1,200 guardsmen and guardswomen.

There are intelligence groups, security, civil engineering, logistics people, medical and wing staff at the base. Each plays a necessary and integral role in not only overseas missions, but right here in the Summit City in the event of emergencies, according to its wing commander, Col. David L. Augustine.

Augustine is fighting to keep the A-10 aircraft at the base. He believes in preserving its rich history as a fighter wing. Fighting for the A-10 Thunderbolts, which have been used since the Vietnam War, also means fighting for the men and women on his base. They are men and women like Emily Simerson, a public affairs specialist at the base, who views the 122nd as way of life. Simerson says the base would embrace a mission change but says losing her position would be a difficult adjustment.

"This is not a job for me. This is my life. This is my mission. This is what I want to do. This is who I want to be.”

The pride Simerson displays when talking about her work at the 122nd is undeniable. It is a sense of pride that is shared by three brothers from Ossian who also work at the base. They are the Lewis brothers: Technical Sgt. Joe Lewis, Technical Sgt. Jarrod Lewis and Staff Sgt. James Lewis.

"We can talk to each other about what happened at the last guard drill or an upcoming trip that's going on. It's just really cool to bounce things off each other when it comes to professional development or education programs or anything like that," says Technical Sgt. Jarrod Lewis.

The Lewises, a family by blood, serve as a microcosm of the familial attitude held by all members of the base. Technical Sgt. Joe Lewis says it is an attitude that all Fort Wayne-Allen County residents should possess.

"Here we are: Fort Wayne, Indiana. We have this amazing A-10 Fighter Wing out here. They know that if there's a community disaster, if there's anything that they need, that we're right here."

Of the 1,200 members at the wing, 152 could find their positions eliminated with the proposed cuts that would remove the A-10 aircraft from the base and replace the jets with MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft. Like Simerson, the Lewises say they would embrace any changes at the base but remind those in Washington that the base has always been involved in combat.

"We train and we fight to the same level that the active duty Air Force does and it's just something to be real proud of—that we have a unit like this in our community because I think that we have one of the best guard units in the entire country," says Technical Sgt. Jarrod Lewis.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (IN-3) announced that the U.S. House of Representatives had successfully passed a bill that will put a freeze on any personnel and aircraft transfers. That bill will head to the U.S. Senate so that they can craft their version. If it successfully makes it out of Congress, it will then head to President Obama’s desk for his signature. If the cuts he is looking to achieve are not met, the bill could be vetoed and sent back to Congress.

Additionally, according to an official with the Pentagon, appropriations bills are not typically signed into law until the end of the year. In an election year, according to the official, it is possible the bill could be sidelined until 2013. Resultantly, a resolution might be far off, which will mean the base will remain stable for the foreseeable future. That stability, however, is not indefinite.

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