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Emmer hears pitch for new Air National Guard planes

Air National Guard leaders briefed Congressman Tom Emmer on the need to update the aging fleet of C-130 transport planes.

FORT SNELLING, Minn. — Congressman Tom Emmer, the newly minted U.S. House Majority Whip, made a stop Friday afternoon at the 133rd Airlift Wing to learn more about the Air Guard's mission and the need to upgrade its fleet.

They're trying to replace their eight C-130H Hercules transport planes with more modern C-130J models. Colonel James Kleet, the commander of the 133rd Airlift Wing, told Rep. Emmer the newer models have improved avionics and more capabilities, which is why they're the new standard for active-duty U.S. Air Force units.

In addition to that, some of the C-130H models have been in the air for decades and it's becoming more difficult to source spare parts. But the first C-130Js approved by Congress went to Air National Guard Units in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Texas.

Col. Kleet took Emmer aboard one of the gigantic Hercules transport planes as part of the visit, which was the first time the 6th District congressman had been inside one.

"I’ve seen pictures and video of them in the air, but once you're inside, you realize just how big this thing is and how much they can do," Emmer told KARE after stepping out of the plane.

"People have got to understand how important the Airwing is, not just to the local economy here, but to our entire state, our nation and even beyond that."

Even if the Minnesota Congressional delegation succeeds in getting earmarks or appropriations for the C-130Js, it will take some time to get them in place. Col. Kleet told Emmer that Lockheed Martin has been hit with a huge demand, and it could take until the 2030s to deliver all the new planes.

In the meantime, the Air National Guard will need funding to keep the current Hercules planes in the air. They've recently been able to replace four-blade propellers with an 8-blade version that saves on fuel.

Emmer said he'd do all he can to help and pointed out Minnesotans are on key committees in the House. Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul is the ranking minority member on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. First District Republican Brad Finstad is on the House Armed Services Committee.

"It’s important Minnesota maintain this. That’s why the delegation, as a group, we’ve stood up for this. And we’ve got to do a little more work to make sure people know how important MInnesota is to this mission, and they get the equipment they need."

Emmer's not the first to visit the 133rd Airlift Wing to talk about the ongoing mission. In fact, he spotted Sen. Amy Klobuchar in a photo that was part of Col. Kleet's PowerPoint presentation. Emmer instantly snapped a photo of the slide on the screen and texted it to Klobuchar.

The 133rd has been flying C-130s for half a century, on a wide variety of military, disaster relief and humanitarian missions. The work is done by 1,200 Minnesota National Guard members, including 300 full-time staff.

As the Guard unit, the 133rd can be tapped for both state and federal missions. In 2021, for example, the unit transported thousands of soldiers to the nation's Capital to provide security for the inauguration of President Biden.

The Guard has touted the strategic location at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, because many commercial airline pilots based at that hub also work part-time for the 133rd.

At one point last year, the Department of Defense contemplated taking the planes away and shifting the 133rd's mission to cyber warfare defense. That mission went instead to a unit in Mansfield, Ohio. 

So, the 133rd is still flying planes. The command staff can't engage in politics, but they will keep making to case to politicians that they need newer aircraft.

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