story by Ryan Saylor
The 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith has not had much reason to celebrate as of late, but that could soon change.
A visit to the air national guard base by Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark Welsh III on Jan. 18 did not change the decision of the military to replace the A-10 fighters based at the 188th with a remotely piloted aerial vehicle recon mission.
A letter dated Jan. 24 from Major General William D. Wofford, adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, may soon change the bleak outlook.
The letter, addressed to Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, said a new squadron could move to the 188th that would add more than 100 airmen to the Arkansas Air National Guard.
"It is imperative we recognize and express our appreciation for the determined efforts of our Congressional Delegation motivating the Air Force Chief of Staff to offer us a targeting squadron to complement the remotely piloted aircraft mission at Fort Smith, resulting in a total gain of 106 Airmen to the Arkansas Air National Guard," the letter read. "This is an unprecedented positive change in manpower no other state can claim."
The letter provided no further details regarding the proposed squadron.
Wofford could not be reached for comment, though public affairs officer Major Chris Heathscott confirmed that he had heard about the squadron.
Heathscott said he was unfamiliar with the letter, though he confirmed that Wofford would have meetings Thursday regarding not only the new remotely piloted aerial vehicles but also the possibility of the new targeting squadron.
"They will discuss some of the details of the new mission," Heathscott said. "This will be very complex and I don't want to speak on something before our leadership has had a chance to discuss it."
Heathscott said more information on the possibility of a new squadron would be made available Friday.
Broad cuts in U.S. defense spending – possibly up to $500 billion over 10 years – include the removal of the 20 A-10 Thunderbolt fighter planes from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith. The unit has almost 1,000 full- and part-time employees.
The loss of the fighter mission is scheduled to be replaced with a remotely piloted area vehicle — most likely the Predator drone. The remotely piloted aerial vehicles and intelligence specialists needed to analyze drone-driven data may not be based in Fort Smith.
188th Commander Col. Mark Anderson recently noted in a memo to members of the 188th that moving to the new mission has begun.
“The conversion starts now. We've had the 188th conversion team in place for several weeks now and they are doing outstanding work,” Anderson noted in a memo that was released Tuesday (Jan. 29) to the Fort Smith Board of Directors.
Link here for a PDF of Wofford's letter to Mayor Sanders.