Department of Defense officials announced Dec. 13 that Lajes Field will transition from an air base wing to an air base group with a reduction of more than 400 military personnel and 500 family members by the end of fiscal year 2014.
“The drawdown of the 65th Air Base Wing is part of a larger Air Force effort to shape the force,” said Col. Chris Bargery, 65th Air Base Wing commander.
The Secretary of Defense has mandated cost-cutting efficiencies across the U.S. forces. In turn, the United States Air Force identified potential structure changes to fulfill the mandate. Force-structure changes at Lajes Field are estimated to garner savings of $35 million annually.
“The U.S. force posture is being adjusted to meet fiscal challenges, while maintaining a strong, capable relationship with our Portuguese allies and partners,” said Bargery. “Lajes Field’s strategic mission is important and valuable, and will not change. But, the footprint with which we accomplish our mission will change.”
Services will be reduced proportionally to support one-year “unaccompanied” tour lengths for Airmen. Upon completion of the drawdown, a Department of Defense Dependents School will no longer operate at Lajes Field.
Some changes to facilities are scheduled to begin immediately. The goal is to accomplish right-sizing of costs, personnel and facilities by October 2014.
The 65th Air Base Wing will deliberately plan the reduction of its footprint at Lajes Field. Reduction of to the number of military and civilian employment positions required to meet the new group’s mission will be conducted in a phased approach, said Bargery.
An immediate elimination of employment positions is not being planned.
“We have yet to officially identify the military and civilian positions that will be eliminated as part of this drawdown. Our intent is to scrutinize every, single position and fully understand how it helps us meet our mission,” said Bargery. “Just as importantly, we will do our best to support and help prepare anyone affected by this transition. We value and recognize the relationships that we have with our local national employees and all Azoreans affected by this change.”
Lajes Field is scheduled to achieve its end-strength in personnel and footprint by mid-2014.
“We expect all families to depart by summer 2014 or shortly thereafter,” said Bargery.
“We are committed to implementing these changes in the right way, and to taking care of our Airmen, families and Portuguese local national employees throughout.”
Portuguese Air Base #4, commonly known as Lajes Field, is a Portuguese Air Force installation. The 65th Air Base Wing and other U.S. military organizations and support functions are hosted at the base by Portugal’s Headquarters Azores Air Zone and Air Base #4 staff.