- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A judge ruled yesterday that the Defense Department does not have the authority to dissolve a Pennsylvania Air National Guard division without the governor’s approval — a blow to the Pentagon’s plan.

U.S. District Judge John R. Padova said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should have gotten consent from Gov. Edward G. Rendell before moving to deactivate the 111th Fighter Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. The judge said the Pentagon’s recommendation to close the unit is “null and void.”

The ruling was delivered as a base-closing commission wrapped up its work in deciding the fate of military bases across the nation. The commission voted yesterday to close Pennsylvania’s Willow Grove station, which is home to the fighter wing and Air Force and Navy reserve units, along with other military units. But the commission did not deactivate the 111th.

It was not clear how the ruling might affect the fate of other Guard units targeted by the Pentagon.

Several other states have filed, or are considering, similar lawsuits.

The Pentagon had recommended that the Pennsylvania unit, with more than 1,000 jobs, be deactivated and that its aircraft either be retired or relocated to other Air National Guard bases.

The lawsuit didn’t challenge the Pentagon’s authority to close Willow Grove, only whether the federal government could deactivate the 111th Fighter Wing based there.

The judge wrote that the loss of the Guard unit would deprive the state of nearly 25 percent of its total Air Guard strength along with eliminating a unit vital to homeland security in the state.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said officials were reviewing the judge’s opinion and had not decided how to proceed. The Pentagon declined to comment on the ruling.

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