Hagel says first priority is safety with F-35′s

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EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE (WALA) — U.S Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the Gulf Coast Thursday.

He was at Eglin Air Force Base talking about how cuts in the military will impact all service members, and the future of the grounded F-35 aircraft.

The plane plays an important role in the economy of our area.

“THE FUTURE OF FIGHTER AIRCRAFT”

Hagel said he believes the F-35s, like the two that were in the hangar where he spoke, are the future of fighter aircraft.

The planes are important to Eglin and northwest Florida because military officials said all training on F-35 planes in the U.S is done at Eglin.

But, the Air Force and Navy grounded all F-35s after a runway fire two weeks ago.

Hagel said the investigation into what happened is continuing, but that pilots he talked to have complete confidence in the planes.

The defense secretary said, “We are assuring their safety is the first priority. We are not going to put the aircraft in the air. We’re not going to ask anyone to risk their lives on any platform for any reason unless we feel absolutely secure that it is safe.”

PILOTS BUSY IN THE MEANTIME

Hagel didn’t give a timetable on when the investigation might be finished, but a pilot did talk about what he and his colleagues have been doing since they can’t do hands on training in the F-35s right now.

The pilot said, “We’re fully employing the full mission simulators that we have here at Eglin, and we’re going over there to fly those to stay current.”

UPDATE ON MILITARY CUTS

But, as far as cuts, Hagel said a continuation of reductions is ahead.

As for pay raises. Hagel said, “Pay increases for the next couple of years would be less, but it’s still pay increases.”

What about the basic housing allowance?

Hagel said, “We’re recommending a gradual, over time, lessening of those benefits: 100 percent now, and you take it down three to four percent over a number of years.”

SOUTHEAST TRIP

After spending about an hour at Eglin, Hagel then left for a visit to Fort Rucker

Hagel also visited a submarine base in Georgia

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