Leader Blues

Monday, May 07, 2007

TOP STORY >>Self: Base well positioned till 2025

IN SHORT: The outgoing commander says LRAFB, which has seen major physical improvements, should keep its key missions and even see growth, but the base closure and realignment process remains a challenge.

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor

Brig. Gen. Kip Self, the outgoing commander of the 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, told a group of community leaders Thursday the base is well positioned to continue its missions for at least a couple of more decades because of infrastructure improvements and it has great potential for continued growth.

In one of his last public appearances before he leaves May 23 to take command of the Air Force Expeditionary Center, Air Mobility Command at McGuire AFB, N.J., the general gave an upbeat assessment of the future of the local air base.

“The base is postured for 2025,” Self said at a meeting of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council.

The general said he’s leaving the air base in good hands when he turns over his command on May 16 to Brig. Gen. (Select) Rowayne A. Schatz, Jr., a former squadron commander here.

Self pointed out the base is situated on 6,600 acres, but only about two-thirds of the land is being used. Some 2,200 acres of land could accommodate several new missions, Self said.

“We can add more missions,” he said, including the continued replacement of old airplanes with the new generation of C-130J transport planes. “We have great potential.”

In addition to a growing number of C-130Js at the base — it has seven, and that number could grow — construction continues at a rapid pace. Self pointed to $44 million in building projects. The base clinic is getting $10 million in improvements and the aging communications system, which dates back to the 1950s, is being updated with fiber optics at a cost of $5 million.

The base is doing so well, he said, that the Air Force cancelled last year’s operational readiness inspection, a regularly scheduled review of military installations to ensure they’re combat-ready.

Self said, “A four-star general told me, ‘There’s not much more you can do. You are efficient, you are ready,’” so the inspection was cancelled.

“When you’re in the combat zone,” Self added, “you have to be ready.”
Air base crews are “100 percent on time in combat,” Self said.

As they have for more than 50 years, the men and women at LRAFB are “doing Herculean things,” carrying out their missions in combat zones and doing humanitarian work, he said.

But the general cautioned that the base closure and realignment process will continue for many years and urged community leaders to be on guard and ensure the the air base stays open.

“BRAC will remain a challenge,” Self said, adding that the Air Force wants to eliminate 12 percent of its bases.
When he came here almost two years ago, he said he faced numerous seemingly insurmountable problems, including the need to house and feed thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees in August 2005.

“We were overwhelmed,” the general said. “Thirteen thousand people were headed our way. We were ready to put people on the (base) golf course.”

But that wasn’t necessary as local residents and people from everywhere responded. Supplies were flown in from around the world. “After Katrina, you proved your worth,” the general said.

Self had high praise for Schatz, his successor.

“The new commander is fantastic,” Self said. “He’s bright and he’s an LRAFB alumnus,” having previously commanded the 50th Airlift Squadron.

Self said he’s looking forward to taking command of the Air Force Expeditionary Center, an advanced training installation that helps the Air Force reach worldwide locations with pinpoint accuracy.