Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

TOP STORY>> Base marks anniversary

IN SHORT>>LIttle Rock Air Force Base played a secret part in helping Israel win the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a retired general told 800 airmen and guests celebrating the base’s 50th anniversary on Saturday night.

Leader staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base has proven resilient, adaptable and a good community partner, according to retired Gen. Alfred G. Hansen, in town last weekend to help celebrate the base’s 50th anniversary.

Hansen, base commander from 1979 through August 1981, and Larry T. Wilson, president of First Arkansas Bank and Trust, gave keynote addresses Saturday night as about 800 airmen, former airmen and community leaders gathered at the Statehouse Convention Center in dress uniform or black tie to celebrate the occasion with dining, dancing and fireworks.

Wilson’s late father, Kenneth Pat Wilson, was among those instrumental in assembling the 6,500 necessary acres to bring the base to Jacksonville half a century ago, and Wilson himself is past president of the base’s community council.

“(The base’s) founding fathers were focused on the economic benefits,” said Hansen.

They must have been far-sighted, because last year, the base’s economic impact on the surrounding community increased $68 million to $580 million, according to Lt. Jon Quinlan. (See article this page.)

“I wonder if they realized the tremendous impact on hundreds of thousands affected,” Hansen mused aloud.

During the Israeli-Syrian war in 1973, Little Rock Air Force Base was picked for a secret mission as the staging area for subsequent delivery of arms and munitions to Israel, said Hansen. “They were shipped here, then to Tel Aviv. I was told they would have lost the war otherwise,” he said.

He praised the base’s ability over the years to transform itself quickly, going from a reconnaissance base to a bomber base to a tactical airlift base and strategic air command base.

“As the threats change, the mission changes,” he said.

Speaking forcefully and with apparent conviction, Hansen said the U.S. was the only remaining superpower and thus had certain responsibilities—even as policeman of the world.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” he said. “What has made this a great democracy is not turning its back,” he said.

“Fighting to provide freedom around the world, undertaking relief missions—the country and the base have a role to keep the bright light of freedom burning.”

Members of the armed forces are making a great sacrifice and are doing so willingly, Hansen said.

“A lot of people say the U.S. cuts and runs when the body bags (appear),” he said. “In Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has proven that’s not true.”

Hansen was commander of the 314th Tactical Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base from October 1978 until August 1981.

Currently he is president and chief executive officer of EMS Technologies, Inc., an advanced technology communications company.

Hansen concluded a 37-year the Air Force career in 1989 as a four-star general, going to work for Lockheed Martin, where he served as a corporate vice president and executive vice president of Aero-nautical Systems from 1995 until 1998.
During his career, he served as a member of the Apollo spacecraft recovery team, and later flew 113 combat missions as an A-1 pilot stationed in Thailand.

Sen. Mark Pryor, Cong. Vic Snyder and mayors Tommy Swaim of Jacksonville, Stubby Stumbaugh of Cabot and Art Brooke of Ward were among the guests.

Swaim currently serves as president of the base community council.

Also attending were several other former commanders and spouses.

They were Col. and Mrs. Charles O’Sullivan, 1962 and 1965; Col. and Mrs. James Gaydaux, 1965-66; Col. and Mrs. Theodore Dale, 1970; Brig. Gen. and Mrs. Richard Drury, 1972-73; Col. and Mrs. James Elmer, 1978-79; Col. and Mrs. William Kehler, 1983-85; Col. and Mrs. William Arent, 1985-89; Col. and Mrs. Albert Hart, 1989-91, and Jill Scott, wife of Brig. Gen. David Scott, 2001-03 .

Following the celebration, Pryor said the base was very important to central Arkansas over the last 50 years.

“I’m proud of the community and the Air Force base,” said Pryor.

“It’s been a great partnership. It’s hokey, but true.”