Groups begin plan to counter 188th threat

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 62 views 

At least two meetings were held Wednesday (Nov. 30) morning in Fort Smith during which business, political and military leaders began to form a game plan for protecting the 188th Fighter Wing against possible federal budget cuts.

It was first announced Nov. 22 that the 188th Fighter Wing based at the Fort Smith Regional Airport may be one of the many military cuts possibly to result from Congressional failure to reach a deficit-cutting agreement. The unit employs about 350 full-time personnel, with about 1,000 on the base once a month for training.

The budget threat comes four years after the 188th converted from the F-16 fighter jet to the A-10 ground support aircraft. Conversion to the A-10 was the product of a last minute reversal of a decision to close the 188th. During May 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was faced with 834 closings or realignment recommendations from the Department of Defense.

After that close call, the 188th Fighter Wing-Fort Chaffee Community Council was formed to support the military presence in the region and to be proactive against future threats.

Tracy Winchell, communications manager for the city of Fort Smith, said the meeting began a “multi-faceted effort” among Arkansas’ Congressional delegation, the office of Gov. Mike Beebe, community leaders, area legislators and military officials to promote and preserve the 188th.

“The talk is about what the plan is going to be … to ensure an ongoing mission for the 188th,” Winchell said.

Part of Wednesday’s discussion included talk about the possibility of the military base being home to an unmanned aerial platform. However, such a unit may only require 20-25 military personnel.

Winchell said a statement would likely be released Thursday (Dec. 1) to the media providing more detail about the process.

Also, Dr. Jerry Stewart, chairman of the Community Council and former CEO of Cooper Clinic, is scheduled to talk about the early planning during the First Friday (Dec. 2) breakfast held by the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. The breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m., in the Reynolds Room of the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.