Leader Blues

Friday, July 14, 2006

TOP STORY >>New general set to head Air National Guard

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: A former chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Riley Porter is ready to take command of the Arkansas Air National Guard at the Jacksonville base.

Brig. Gen. Riley P. Porter, the new commander of the Arkansas Air National Guard, keeps a twisted piece of metal on his immaculate desk at Little Rock Air Force Base to remind him of how close he came to dying while in Iraq three years ago.

“I don’t know what it came from, but it was sizzling when it hit the ground next to me. We didn’t have body armor there, but it wouldn’t of mattered with this,” Porter said studying the inch-wide, three inch long corkscrew of steel.

A former mayor of West Helena, Porter was responsible for getting Balad Air Base started in Iraq, which was nicknamed “Mortaritaville” because of the frequent mortar and rocket attacks.

“It was an honor and privilege to set up Balad Air Force Base. We had nothing to work with in a hostile environment,” Porter said.

With that and 30-plus years of military experience, being responsible for the Guard’s 2,100 airmen should be easy. “The entire Air Force has challenges but we see them as opportunities,” Porter said.

The Arkansas Air National Guard is divided up among three major commands throughout the state including the 189th Airlift Wing and the 123rd Intelligence Squadrons both located at LRAFB; the 188th Fighter Wing at Fort Smith and the 223rd Combat Communications Squadron in Hot Springs.

About 75 people from the Arkansas Air National Guard are currently deployed to the Middle East. America’s Air Guard is responsible for more than 45 percent of airlift and 40 percent of air fuel tankers in the war, says Porter.

A command pilot with over 5,700 flying hours, the general’s background flying KC-135 air fuel tankers and C-130 cargo aircraft makes him a natural fit for the job.

“As a significant percentage of the deployed force, the Air National Guard is definitely a key asset to the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command. My experience, not only from the schoolhouse at Little Rock Air Force Base, but also in some of these key theater locations can benefit the AMC commander with knowledge necessary to manage mobility taskings,” Porter said.

Porter has been stationed at LRAFB before with the 189th Airlift Wing. Most recently he commanded and directed operations in overseas deployments for units in Kyrgyzstan, Tallil Air Base, Iraq, and Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

Among Porter’s list of wishes for the Air Guard are more aircraft nationwide, balancing the operation tempo of the mission with the manpower available and making sure the people are taken care of.

“The people in the Guard make the Guard,” Porter said. The general says he envisions Guardsmen volunteering for Operation Jump Start, a support mission to the Depart-ment of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection Service (CBP) in the southwest United States.

About 200 members of the 39th Brigade Combat Team of the Arkansas Army National Guard will be performing surveillance and reconnaissance, engineering and logistics support along the border of New Mexico and Texas.

The general has a lighter side evidenced in his office including a motion-sensor dinosaur that roars when activated and a collection of military hats from Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

Thanks to technological advances such as e-mail and cell phones, Porter says he plans to work mostly from his home in West Helena. A self-proclaimed country boy, Porter likes yard work and fishing. The general and his wife Denise have two adult daughters and are expecting their first grandchild in a few months.

Porter will officially take command from retiring Brig. Gen. Shelby G. Bryant in ceremonies set for Aug. 6 at Little Rock Air Force Base.