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Legislators examine ‘sound of freedom’

Air National Guard Col. Pete Byrne (top right), vice commander of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, gives legislative staffers a peak inside an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet during the staffers? visit with Colorado National Guard leaders May 14, 2009 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo. CONG leaders discussed the numerous missions and roles of the Guard in the nation, state and community, as well as the challenges future leaders will likely face with respect to encroachment and future flight operations at the Air Force base. (Official Colorado National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard/Released)

Air National Guard Col. Pete Byrne (top right), vice commander of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, gives legislative staffers a peak inside an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet during the staffers? visit with Colorado National Guard leaders May 14, 2009 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo. CONG leaders discussed the numerous missions and roles of the Guard in the nation, state and community, as well as the challenges future leaders will likely face with respect to encroachment and future flight operations at the Air Force base. (Official Colorado National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard/Released)

Legislators visit with Colorado National Guard leaders May 14, 2009 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo. CONG leaders discussed the numerous missions and roles of the Guard in the nation, state and community, as well as the challenges future leaders will likely face with respect to encroachment and future flight operations at the Air Force base. (Official Colorado National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard/Released)

Legislators visit with Colorado National Guard leaders May 14, 2009 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo. CONG leaders discussed the numerous missions and roles of the Guard in the nation, state and community, as well as the challenges future leaders will likely face with respect to encroachment and future flight operations at the Air Force base. (Official Colorado National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard/Released)

The Adjutant General of Colorado, Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, speaks with Colorado Rep. B.J. Nikkel (R) during the legislator?s visit with Colorado National Guard leaders May 14, 2009 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo. During the visit, CONG leaders discussed the numerous missions and roles of the Guard in the nation, state and community, as well as the challenges future leaders will likely face with respect to encroachment and future flight operations at the Air Force base. (Official Colorado National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard/Released)

The Adjutant General of Colorado, Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, speaks with Colorado Rep. B.J. Nikkel (R) during the legislator?s visit with Colorado National Guard leaders May 14, 2009 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo. During the visit, CONG leaders discussed the numerous missions and roles of the Guard in the nation, state and community, as well as the challenges future leaders will likely face with respect to encroachment and future flight operations at the Air Force base. (Official Colorado National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard/Released)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- More than a dozen Colorado legislators and staffers visited Buckley Air Force Base May 14 to learn what the Colorado Air National Guard (COANG) does for the state as well as how the legislators can best support the COANG.

Senior Colorado National Guard leaders discussed the numerous missions and roles of the Guard in a state and federal capacity, as well as the challenges future leaders will likely face.

Encroachment is perhaps the biggest issue facing the 140th Wing and the Colorado Air National Guard as it prepares for the next generation of fighter jets, and the $1.2 billion dollar annual economic impact that Buckley AFB has on the surrounding community is no small matter, said 140th Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. Trulan Eyre.

"When our current [F-16s] time out, our flying mission could go away and we want to prevent that from happening here," said Colorado Air National Guard Director of Operations, Col. Rick Martin.

"When the Air Force considers bed down locations for the F-35, they're going to look at a lot of different issues," said Martin. "There won't be enough F-35s to go around, so every base that's flying fighters today won't be guaranteed to fly fighters in the future."

Two of the considerations for future flying operations are space for flight training use, as well as how close the surrounding community has grown around the fence line - otherwise known as encroachment.

A number of factors create a "footprint" of noise around an installation with a flying mission, and many cities across the country use the size of the footprint to help determine what to do with respect to zoning and construction surrounding a military base. While this isn't a big problem yet east of Buckley, the anticipated noise footprint of the new F-35 fighter is expected to be larger than the current F-16 footprint.

"What we want to prevent from happening is residential development in nearby locations that could prevent Buckley from being a candidate for the F-35 mission," said Martin. "We want to buffer the base so that residential zoning and development won't potentially end our flying mission here."

In an effort to bring the issue home, legislators received an overhead tour of the base seeing potential encroachment areas aboard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 2nd Battalion, 135th General Support Aviation, Colorado Army National Guard.

"An Air Force base without a flying mission is vulnerable," said Eyre. "If too many people complain about the aircraft noise near a base, the Air Force can shut down the mission."

We're trying to avoid giving the Air Force any reason to scratch us off the F-35 list, and encroachment and our noise footprint is one just one part of the big picture, Martin said.