Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

TOP STORY >> More airmen predicted for base

By SARA GREENE
Leader staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base is combining or eliminating 270 support jobs over the next five years as part of modernization efforts, but it still expects a net gain of at least 500 personnel and half a dozen cargo planes as a result of Base Realignment and Closure recommendations.

The Air Force continues to streamline operations by eliminating jobs, a move that could affect 270 support positions at the base over the next five years, including 196 over the next 18 months in fields such as food service operations, communications, chaplain services, legal, firefighting and finance offices. The plan would not affect pilots, aircrews, mechanics and logistics personnel here.

“This plan affects spaces, not faces. In fact, some of those positions aren’t even filled right now,” Brig. Gen. Kip Self, commander at Little Rock Air Force Base, told The Leader Tuesday.

Some of the jobs will be eliminated, while others are combined. The job reduction at the base is part of a proposed five-year force-shaping plan called Air Force Smart Operations 21. The plan aims at reducing 40,000 Air Force personnel by 2011, or about 12 percent of the 340,000 people now serving in the active-duty Air Force.

“This is just part of the modernization effort of the Air Force to pay for sophisticated weapon systems. Personnel is where the most money is spent, so that’s where the cuts were,” Self said.

Little Rock Air Force Base is far from shrinking, though. Under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations, the base is scheduled to receive six C-130 cargo aircraft and 500 additional personnel, and perhaps even more.

Self said base personnel looked at the Air Force Smart Operations 21 plan and sent a response back up the chain of command.

“For example, I think we saved nine firefighter positions. We need to retain our firefighters to provide fire protection for the drop zones. Cuts there would affect the mission,” Self said.

The airmen affected by the cuts can train for other Air Force jobs, move to other military branches or retire.

“I don’t think the Air Force would intentionally do anything to hurt mission effectiveness at Little Rock Air Force Base or anywhere else,” said 2nd Dist. Cong. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.). Snyder serves on both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

He is the ranking member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

“The House Armed Services Committee will continue to monitor troop levels to make sure that Little Rock continues to be the best C-130 base in the country,” Snyder said.

Currently, military spending is between $400 and $500 billion a year, an increase of 41 percent since 2001. The Pentagon estimates spending at least $2.3 trillion from 2006 to 2011.

The Pentagon has about $1.3 trillion invested in weapon systems in some stage of development, with over $800 billion of those costs yet to be paid, such as the F/A-22 Raptor Air Force fighter jet or the V-22 Osprey aircraft for the Marines — and they are still not ready for combat. The F/A-22 was ordered in the early 1980s to fight Soviet Union jets.

The Air Force had planned to buy 648 F/A-22s, at a cost of $125 million each, measured in current dollars, but it can now afford only 181 jets, now priced at triple the cost at $361 million each.

Last December, the Air Force reduced 4,000 lieutenants citing too many officers and not enough enlisted. That move affected 40 lieutenants at Little Rock Air Force Base. In 1991, when the Air Force made its last major personnel cuts, the force was slashed by 41 percent down to its current level of 340,000 airmen.