EAST PEORIA — Those attending the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues breakfast Aug. 5 learned about the Illinois National Guard.
Gen. Clay Moushon and Col. William Robertson from the Air National Guard 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria presented a video and spoke about the Guard, which has more than 13,000 soldiers and airmen in the state.
There are about 3,000 at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, which is located near the General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport.
“We’re out there to provide support, not only to the country, but to the state and the community,” Robertson said.
Peoria’s base is “kind of special” because it has three major commands, Robertson said. They are space command, air combat and air mobility. They also have a band.
Last year’s fiscal budget was $61.6 million, with a payroll of about $55 million. Active duty personnel make about $57,000 a year and a person in the Guard with the same qualifications makes about $7,000 per year.
“The balance is you’re getting a pretty good size force ... for a pretty good dollar amount,” Robertson said. “Thirty-four percent of the Air Force mission is done on 7 percent of the Air Force budget. That’s pretty cheap.”
Locally, the Guard puts $2.5 million a year back into the economy, Robertson said.
It is evident Robertson is proud of the base. He said they have had five Air Force outstanding unit awards since 9/11. They have also had the highest mission capable rate in the Air Force eight out of the last nine years.
“The Air Force is trying to figure out how we’re doing that,” Robertson said.
The Guard gets their orders from the governor. They do federal and state missions, some of which are airlift, peacekeeping, urban search and rescue and hazmat.
Illinois has more nuclear power plants than any other state, Robertson said he believes. There are also a lot of chemical regions.
“So, you can see what our folks are getting trained to protect and recover from,” Robertson said.
The Guard has staff trained to deal with various disasters.
“That’s very important in the days we live in,” Robertson said.
“I can tell you at any given time there’s a major natural disaster going on in this country,” Moushon said.
After the tornado in Washington in 2013, the guard was involved.
“We are there when the first responders are overwhelmed,” Moushon said.
Hurricane Katrina was the worst natural disaster the Guard has witnessed, Moushon said.
“It wasn’t just a hurricane that came in from Katrina, it was the size of the tornadoes that were spun off that came in, and these were unusual because they were so heavy with water content and they created an unusual amount of damage,” Moushon said.
Telecommunications is the biggest problem Moushon has witnessed during a disaster. There are also situations during a disaster that are never thought of such as what to do with animals at the zoo during a flood.
“If I am going to get them out, I’m going to fly them out. ... How are you going to fly them out ... How do you pack up and fly out an elephant ... well, you get a big, big plane, you sedate them,” Moushon said.
During a natural disaster, people are often frightened, which can lead to escalated situations.
Rules for the use of force is also something the Guard has to know.
“Every situation is different ... Are our folks going in armed? Are they going to be wearing sidearms or be wearing M16s? These are going to be dictated by the event,” he said.
Moushon referred to Ferguson.
“The Guard was called out by the governor. ... the governor held them in reserve on the back side for good reasons. You can escalate a problem by use of force. You can de escalate a problem by holding them back,” Moushon said.
During Hurricane Katrina, Moushon said he witnessed fear and desperation.
“When you have fear and desperation, people are going to do what they have to do to survive and that’s naturally going to create a conflict,” Moushon said.
Part of the Guard’s job is dealing with this to help get the basic necessities to people, such as water and food.
“Everything we did in Katrina, we do right here in Illinois,” Moushon said, referring to the services they provide, such as levee repair, road repair, handling hazardous materials and more.
The Guard also flies and drops supplies to the Army when they are called.
In addition to being trained for war, the Guard provides humanitarian relief.
“I’ve had bricks, mortar and pipes in the back of my airplane, everything you can think of, concrete, flying to South American countries so they can build a school,” Robertson said.
The Guard deploys all over the world.
“My people have gone back and forth to Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere in that area multiple times, some as much as 15 times,” Robertson said.
At any given time we have guardsmen deployed around the world,” Moushon said.
Moushon receives weekly mobilization charts that show where their soldiers are deployed throughout the world. These deployments show that the Guard is a community based organization.
“I know that somewhere along the line they’ve had to make arrangements with their employers, they’ve had to work through details with their family and they’ve come back and go right back into the workplace,” Moushon said.
Traditionally, Moushon said they get the hand-me-downs when it comes to aircraft since they are a guard unit.
“There is talk that they are going to start automatically pushing a certain percentage of the new aircraft to the guard,” Moushon said.
He said the reason for this alludes to Robertson’s earlier remark of the Guard being 7 percent of the Air Force’s budget and doing 34 percent of the job.
“We deploy more often. They are going to rely on us more often and the reason for that is we do it cheaper,” Moushon said. “At the end of the day our folks go back to their employers. When you look at a Guard unit, there’s no hospitals on a Guard unit. There are no commissaries. ... So when you start looking at dollar for dollar where do you want to put your money they are rapidly seeing the best bang for your buck is with the Guard.”