Lezlie Sterling / lsterling@sacbee.com

Unmanned Global Hawks, like this one at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, are operated by the 13th Reconnaissance Squadron, which will stand down in September.

Reserve Beale unit that flies Global Hawk to be deactivated in September

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 - 2:12 pm

The reserve unit that flies the Air Force's high-altitude, unmanned Global Hawk aircraft out of Beale Air Force Base near Marysville is standing down in September, a casualty of federal budget cuts.

The squadron's last day is Sept. 29.

About 200 traditional and full-time reservists support and fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30, an advanced version of the Global Hawk, alongside active duty airmen attached to Beale's 9th Reconnaissance Wing.

The unit received formal word in a meeting with squadron and base leaders Feb. 9, Beale officials said.

"The loss of the 13th RS is unfortunate, but we are doing everything we can to find positions within the wing and other Reserve wings for our affected airmen," said Col. Kevin Cavanagh, 940th Wing Commander, in a statement.

The decision to deactivate the 13th Reconnaissance Squadron is a potential blow to reservists who likely will be uprooted by the stand-down and to the Yuba-Sutter area, where the Air Force base is the area's largest employer.

Officials at Beale's 940th Wing, which oversees the 13th RS, peg the annual economic impact of the squadron on the area at $11 million.

"They're a small town of their own. Beale is, by far, our biggest employer. Anything that is negative to Beale is a negative to our region," said Kristy Santucci, chief executive officer of the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce in Marysville.

Many reservists will be left with tough decisions, Beale officials said.

Because many reservists also have their feet and families planted in the civilian world, moving will not be easy. Decisions are further complicated, said Beale officials, by their reserve status. Traditional reservists have to pay relocation costs out of pocket.

Full-time reservists' training costs are not reimbursable. Limited retraining funds are another barrier for those who want to retrain for other careers in the military.

The effect of the loss of the 13th RS on Beale's long-standing aerial reconnaissance mission is unclear.

But leaders at Beale said they were surprised by the news in late January that the 13th Reconnaissance Squadron was to be deactivated.

As late as December 2012, the National Defense Authorization Act – defense budget legislation penned last year – appeared to keep the Global Hawk Block 30 off the extinct list through 2014.

Nearly half of the unit was training with the larger 9th Operations Group in Guam when the initial news came from Washington in late January.

The 13th RS-guided Global Hawks had flown missions over Japan during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the island nation. More recently, they scanned the skies over Libya and are gathering intelligence elsewhere in Africa.

"It's a round-the-clock mission that provides … intelligence that saves the lives of our warriors on the ground," Cavanaugh said in a Beale-published report Tuesday on the impending stand-down.

The news is a double blow for the squadron, Beale officials said. Many in the unit were part of a Beale-based KC-135 air refueling unit that fell to base realignment and closure during the last decade, officials said.

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