ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Air National Guard may soon be taking on more tasks now handled by the Air Force.
The state agency could find itself in charge of watching for enemy aircraft in Alaska air space, monitoring for incoming missiles and other support tasks in the next few years as the Air Force continues to shrink in size.
The new missions could add more than 200 people to the air guard's full-time ranks, according to its Anchorage-based commander, Brig. Gen. George Cannelos.
''It's fortunate that we've developed over the years missions that complement each other,'' Cannelos said last week.
In the past decade, the air guard has taken over several key jobs that used to belong to the Air Force.
The guard's 210th Air Rescue Squadron at Kulis Air National Guard Base responds to distress calls across the Alaska mainland; the 11th Rescue Coordination Center at Camp Denali manages search and rescue operations; and the eight tanker planes of the 168th Air Refueling Wing, based at Eielson Air Force Base, pump fuel into active-duty Air Force planes while airborne.
The next five years could see the 611th Air Control Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base come under the guard's control. The 611th runs a network of 17 Air Force long-range radar sites across the state that monitor Alaska air space.
Cannelos said it's still just a proposal, but across the nation such radar operations have been spun off to Air National Guard units. The 611th, with about 150 uniformed personnel, is the last one still being operated by the Air Force.
''The guard and reserves are taking on additional missions and are becoming an even more important part of the total force,'' said Maj. Les Kodlick, spokesman for the Alaskan Command at Elmendorf.
Defense Secretary William Cohen recently recognized the guard's growing value.
''I would say that now more than ever our national security strategy depends upon the National Guard and reserves,'' Cohen said in a May 20 speech in Torrance, Calif.
''This is a reflection of our new military, a more mobile, a much more flexible military... We couldn't carry out our duties without the full integration of the guard and the reserve.''
In Alaska, discussions are under way to transfer the 13th Space Warning Squadron at Clear Air Station to the air guard over a four-year period.
Clear, about 80 miles southwest of Fairbanks, is one of the Air Force's two sophisticated radar sites set up to provide early warning of incoming ballistic missiles.
Cannelos said the air guard could run the radar site more efficiently because its staffing would be more stable. Rather than a steady rotation of personnel and high retraining costs, the 85 full-time guard members would live in the state, he said.
Reporter T.A. Badger can be reached at tbadgerap.org.
On The Net: Alaska Air Guard: http://www.akang.ang.af.mil
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