‘Focused plan’ being prepped for 188th push

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 79 views 

Area business and civic leaders are working with the Arkansas National Guard on a “focused plan” to proactively protect and enhance the mission of the 188th Fighter Wing based in Fort Smith, Dr. Jerry Stewart said.

Stewart, the chairman of the 188th Fighter Wing-Fort Chaffee Community Council, spoke during the First Friday Breakfast held by the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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.

During the next three weeks, the council’s steering committee will work on a plan to be presented before Christmas to military decision makers with the Department of Defense, Arkansas’ Congressional delegation, and possibly to members of the Armed Services Committee of the U.S House of Representatives.

Members of the steering committee are Stewart; Kevin Wear, former 188th commander; Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders; Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack; Paul Harvel, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce; and Ricky Cross, area AT&T manager and legislative liaison for the council.

Stewart said the committee is working with the Arkansas National Guard to formulate the plan.

Major Gen. William Wofford, Arkansas’ Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard, also spoke to the chamber crowd, saying the greatest threat to the nation’s security is the ailing national economy. He said the about $450 billion in defense cuts are being discussed for fiscal year 2013. Defense spending in fiscal year 2011 was about $750 billion. Cuts could be as high as $600 billion, Wofford said, if a deficit-cutting plan is not reached.

Wofford said that while there is “a lot of rhetoric” in Congress about not allowing deep defense cuts, the level of cuts that are possible put at risk numerous Guard units and aircraft platforms around the country.

“This risk is not just with the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith,” Wofford explained, adding that the C-130 wing in Little Rock could be at risk if the military cuts go too deep.

A primary goal with the presentation is to stress that the 188th is one of the best performing and most efficient Guard units flying the A-10 mission, Wofford explained. He said the presentation being prepared by the steering committee will not be “parochial” because the “business plan” behind the 188th “should be the model used across the country” to determine base and unit changes.

Wofford said he recently had a chance to provide to his bosses in Washington, D.C., a packet of materials that show how the 188th is the most efficient A-10 unit in the Guard.