Community shows up in support of foreign pilot training center in Fort Smith

by Cody Banning ([email protected]) 1,552 views 

Ret. Lt. Colonel Kenny Griffin, a former fighter pilot, voices his support of the Foreign Military Sales Pilot Training Center (FMS) possibly coming to Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith. (photo by Cody Banning)

Hundreds of Fort Smith area citizens gathered Wednesday evening (Sept. 21) at a scheduled public meeting concerning the environmental impact of the new Foreign Military Sales Pilot Training Center (FMS) possibly coming to Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith.

During the two-hour hearing held at the Fort Smith Convention Center, the Department of the Air Force’s Special Judge Lt. Colonel Charles Warren and a panel of conducting the environmental review presented their findings from a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for the center.

They also provided time for Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce members, key stakeholders and residents to voice their opinions on the new center and mission to “beddown” members of the Singapore Air Force, their families and equipment.

Ebbing was selected June 8 by acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth to be the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by Singapore, Switzerland and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. In addition to Ebbing, the Air Force selected Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan as the alternative site.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the federal agency managing the FMS, notes that the program provides “responsible arms sales to further national security and foreign policy objectives by strengthening bilateral defense relations, supporting coalition building, and enhancing interoperability between U.S. forces and militaries of friends and allies.”

Col. Rob Ator, USAF (Ret.), and Arkansas Economic Development Commission director of Military Affairs, has estimated the center would be home to 345 U.S. military personnel and bring to Ebbing or Selfridge an estimated 180-plus members of the Singapore unit and around 300 dependents – 825 total. He said analysis suggests that for every one direct military job added to a local economy, one other job is created.

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, support was shown for the mission by members of local and state government, including Fort Smith Mayor George McGill and Greenwood Mayor Doug Kinslow. Several city officials and local business representatives also spoke up in favor of the mission. All officials expressed readiness to welcome the FMS and the additions, both people and equipment, it would bring to the area.

Kenny Griffin, retired Lieutenant Colonel and former military liaison to the Governor of Arkansas said, “One thing I saw in the slides was a slide that addressed the effect of noise on our children. The first thing I thought is, ‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ Back when I flew F-16s, if I didn’t fly over Alma School District 500 feet, 500 knots, I heard about it.”

Comments from other residents were also in favor of taking on this mission as a community and largely concerned the benefits the community had already reaped from past military installations and missions. The next public hearing concerning the EIS will be held on Sept. 28 near Selfridge AFB in Michigan. A third will be held Oct. 5, virtually.