In what it is describing as a cost-cutting measure, the Pentagon announced last week it will eliminate the positions of more than 400 military personnel, along with 500 family members, at Lajes Field on the Portuguese island of Terceira in the Azores.
The move will shrink the current workforce of 1,100 U.S. and Portuguese personnel at the base by at least half by October 2014, officials said. Airmen assigned to Lajes in the future will serve one-year, unaccompanied tours. The force structure changes, estimated to save $35 million annually, also call for closing the base’s DOD school for dependents.
Aircraft operations support will drop at the installation, and the United States will return about 300 of the 400 buildings on base to Portugal.
“The drawdown of the 65th Air Base Wing is part of a larger Air Force effort to shape the force,” Col. Chris Bargery, 65th Air Base Wing commander, said according to an Air Force press release. “Lajes Field’s strategic mission is important and valuable, and will not change. But, the footprint with which we accomplish our mission will change,” he said.
Lajes Field, a Portuguese Air Force installation, hosts the 65th Air Base Wing, which will transition to an air base group. The base provides refueling and other support to U.S. military and other aircraft flying over the Atlantic Ocean, but flight operations have dropped over the years.
The downsizing is the most significant reduction announced to date by the Air Force in Europe, where DOD’s footprint is shrinking as part of a larger force restructuring plan prompted by budgetary pressure and the department’s strategic shift toward the Pacific region, reported Stars and Stripes.