Leader Blues

Thursday, August 17, 2006

TOP STORY >> Base faces another big deployment

By GARRICK FELDMAN AND SARA GREENE
Leader staff

Brig. Gen. Kip Self, commander of Little Rock Air Force Base, announced Tuesday that 600 airmen will deploy abroad, including Iraq and Afghanistan, in January in the global war on terror.

“We push out the door in January,” he told the quarterly meeting of the LRAFB Community Council. “We’re never really off the hook.”

“Our airmen are deploying year around,” Self told The Leader after he addressed the council, “but our 15-month group rotation cycle is nearly here. After the air show in November, we’re going to gear down for the holidays and focus on spending time with our families.”

Sounding upbeat, the commander thanked Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who also addressed the meeting, and Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., for their support of the base.

Snyder recently pushed through the House funding for a $9.8 million multipurpose education center in front of Little Rock Air Force Base, which will serve both the military and civilians. A school located on base makes it difficult for civilians to attend because of heightened security.

Pryor has secured funding for a $3.6 million maintenance center for the 189th Airlift Wing.
“This base has a glowing future ahead of it especially when you have knowledgeable legislators and talented people working inside the wire,” Self said.

Next year, movement of cargo planes at the air base will expand as Air Mobility Command transfers more C-130s here from Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina as part of the base realignment and consolidation process.

Self predicted “a great influx” of AMC personnel, which will join the 463rd Air Mobility Command at the air base.
But Little Rock will continue to train some 200 C-130 crews a year, the general said.
He also thanked community council members for their support, which has helped make LRAFB one of the top military bases in the nation.

The base is in such good shape that it can forego an operational-readiness inspection because of its excellent ratings in the past.

Last month, Air Education and Training Command (AETC) decided to inspect the base in two years to coincide with the 463rd Airlift Group’s inspection in 2008.

The news of the cancelled inspection came as a relief to the airmen of the base who had been feverishly working to prepare for the inspection.

Now the base is focusing its energies on preparing for Air-power Arkansas, the 51st air show scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 4 and 5. Last year’s air show drew 150,000 spectators to the base.

Self said it would be the last air show for at least two years.

“When we do an air show, it takes a terrific amount of manpower and expertise. We simply need to take a break,” Self told The Leader.

As far as the readiness of the air base is concerned, “the community council has made a great difference,” the general added. “We’re an unbeatable team.”

But Self is not one to rest on his laurels.

“We have to start planning not just for next year, but five, 10 and 25 years ahead,” Self told The Leader — especially because of reductions in manpower this decade.

The Air Force plans to cut 40,000 active-duty airmen and 18,000 reservists in five years.

Self said he has high hopes for the joint cargo aircraft for the Army and Air Force scheduled for delivery in 2010.

Aviation companies are competing in a $5 billion competition to design a twin-engine version of the C-130 cargo aircraft.
“There’s a lot of specifics to be worked out but we need aircraft that can land in small, austere airfields,” Self said, although he still supports expanding the C-130J program.

With the price tag for the new generation of C-130Js running between $45 million and $90 million each, Pryor told The Leader, offering the military a less expensive plane is key.

“I think we will always need cargo capabilities. The Pentagon is giving the Joint Cargo Aircraft program serious consideration and when the planes are produced, I want to make sure Little Rock Air Force Base trains the pilots who fly them,” Pryor told the Leader.

Pryor told council members he is trying to get a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to continue working on legislation affecting LRAFB such as co-sponsoring a bill providing $430 million in improvements to the Veterans Administration, outreach for veterans’ benefits and tax-relief for military members getting combat pay.

“The last thing veterans need to worry about is getting gypped on their taxes,” Pryor said.

Pryor said there are good indications the Senate will pass $9.8 million in funding for the LRAFB joint-education center and $3.6 million for construction of a jet-engine maintenance facility at the 189th Airlift Wing.

Carmie Henry, president of the Little Rock Air Force Base Com-munity Council, praised Pryor for sponsoring legislation that lowered taxes for those serving in combat and helped them with their health care.

While attorney general, Pryor saved Arkansas $243 million in attorney fees in the tobacco settlement.
Henry pointed out that Pryor’s co-sponsorship of a bill to add $430 million for Veterans Admin-istration health care included $168 million for comprehensive mental- health programs, $182 million to supplement shortfalls at VA hospitals and $80 million for veteran centers.

Pryor also passed legislation to help families get faster information about relatives wounded in combat.
The senator told the community council that the Veterans Administration should help veterans find jobs.
He said the goal should be to “connect the Veterans Adminis-tration to the general economy.”

Pryor also discussed the base’s reputation for excellence, pointing out that in addition to its high scores for completing its missions successfully, the base has plenty of room to expand.

“But what seals the deal is community,” the senator told council members. “There are almost zero complaints from the people in the community. We’re very proud to be host to Little Rock Air Force Base.”

During a recent national Demo-cratic weekly radio address, Pryor said the military has been “stretched to the breaking point,” and said returning units lack adequate equipment to train for their next mission.

“The poor management of the war has diverted our focus, our military and more than $300 billion from the war on terrorism,” Pryor said. “Our troops and people deserve better.”

He cited several shortcomings in the nation’s homeland security, including a funding cut for a program at the Pine Bluff Arsenal that provided on-site training to thousands of first responders.

“Five years after 9-11, our country is not as safe as it needs to be, or should be,” Pryor said. “More needs to be done.”
Arkansas offers an abundance of potential terrorism targets including the base, a nuclear energy plant in Russellville, the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock and lakes and streams serving as municipal water supplies.

“I’d hesitate to name any particular targets here in Arkansas. I think we have potential targets all over the country. We can’t just put all the money into big cities like New York and Los Angeles,” Pryor told The Leader. “We need to prepare for the next threat, not the last threat.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.