Fort Smith sent a message to U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., on Tuesday night (Aug. 21) at the Defending Our Defenders Listening Session.
Hundreds of citizens, including civic leaders, city employees, retired members of the 188th Fighter Wing, and families of currently deployed soldiers in the 188th, crowded into the Arkansas Best Performing Arts Center, a part of the Fort Smith Convention Center, to hear from Forbes, members of the Arkansas Congressional Delegation, and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, among others.
Speaking to The City Wire backstage prior to the event, Forbes said, “When you come here firsthand and you talk to people, you get a whole lot better perspective than you could ever get just reading materials.”
Forbes serves as the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness, and for the congressman, being present in Fort Smith means more than just “reading materials” from the Arkansas Delegation.
“This is a community that really does reach out and embrace the 188th. That’s hugely important for us (on the subcommittee). Secondly, we get a great deal of bang for our buck out of the 188th because you’ve got low energy costs, low housing costs, a close training facility. It’s a great facility for us in what it does, and I think we want to make sure that we continue to maintain it.”
When asked how Fort Smith’s community spirit compares to the rest of the country, Forbes called Fort Smith “as good as any part of the country that I’ve seen.”
“We have other parts that are also this good, but unfortunately, we have a lot of places that don’t welcome our bases and facilities, and it’s really important when you get one like this community, which puts its arm around them and says, ‘We want you here.’”
Forbes also took the opportunity to criticize the Pentagon for what he called “arbitrary spending cuts,” both before and during the event.
“We are looking at the impact that these arbitrary Defense cuts are going to mean for the country, and that’s the huge thing. We want to hear what they have to say, because we’ve got a short window to do something about it — about eight legislative days in September. If we fail in doing that, the job cost according to Secretary (of Defense Leon) Panetta is 1.5 million, and according to the Airspace Industry, it’s 2.1 million, across the country. That’s catastrophic. It’s a ripple effect of jobs that would be lost in the country. That’s just huge.”
As a Republican, Forbes admitted that he was a supporter of cutting “wasteful spending,” but maintained that what is at stake for the “arbitrary Defense cuts,” was a “different issue.”
“What we’re against is taking a meat axe to the national defense of the country arbitrarily without any pre-decisional analysis. And in this case, your entire Delegation, Republican and Democrat, has written a letter to the Pentagon saying, ‘Just give us the analysis,’ and there is no analysis.”
Forbes continued: “But it’s not just this. It’s multiplied over and over and over again with the decisions that the Pentagon has been making. That’s not the way to do National Defense in this country. If we have an arbitrary cut in some areas, we don’t lose the country. If you have an arbitrary cut in National Defense, and you’re wrong, you lose the country, and we can’t afford that.”