Maryland's U.S. senators are pushing to block the Navy from moving an air squadron out of Joint Base Andrews, charging that the relocation would cut hundreds of Maryland jobs and leave the Washington area open to attack.
Democrats Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin teamed up with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk to introduce legislation that would keep the VAQ-209 Navy Reserve Electronic Attack Squadron from moving to Washington state. VAQ-209, nicknamed the "Star Warriors," is a 222-person squadron that can destroy radar sites, gather radio intelligence and jam improvised explosive devices with its four electronic warfare jets. The squadron returned from Afghanistan in October 2011, after its fifth deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq since 2006.
"Moving critical resources out of the national capital region and clear across country makes little sense at a time when we are trying to maximize resources while increasing our ability to defend against electronic warfare," Cardin said. "Taxpayers should not be asked to pay millions of dollars for a move that would harm national security."
The Navy says the move is meant to cut costs. Every other VAQ squadron is stationed on Whidbey Island in Washington, with the exception of one based in Japan. Consolidating would save money in support and maintenance, especially as the squadron upgrades to new EA-18G Growler jets, said Naval Air Force Reserve Lt. Meg Ferguson.
"The decision to move the squadron is still under review," Ferguson said. "However, we believe the decision will be approved."
Mikulski, Cardin and Kirk are hoping it won't get to that point. They argue that the area around the nation's capital presents a much greater need than the Pacific Northwest.
"Keeping this unique squadron home-based here in Maryland is critical to the safety and security of the United States," Mikulski said. "Maryland is uniquely qualified to support this elite squadron as a national cyberleader with a top-notch talent pool."
VAQ-209 was named Reserve Squadron of the Year in 2008 and has been awarded Navy Battle E Ribbons, for efficiency, in five of the last seven years. If the move goes through, the squadron will be relocated to Whidbey Island next year.