Leader Blues

Monday, September 10, 2007

TOP STORY >>Flightline funds are approved for LRAFB

Leader staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base has secured $9.8 million to upgrade its 50-year-old flightline, but money for the joint education center at the base is still questionable.

The base will also get $2.8 million to modernize its aerospace ground equipment and engine facility.

Senators Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln announced Thursday that the Senate had approved nearly $80 million for construction projects at LRAFB, Camp Robinson, Fort Chaffee and Arkadelphia through the $109.2 billion fiscal year 2008 military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill devoted to military construction, military family housing and veterans affairs programs.

“We appreciate the strong support the Arkansas congressional delegation continues to provide Little Rock Air Force Base. This money will ensure that Little Rock is fully able to support the combat airlift mission around the world well into the future,” Col. Mark Vlahos, 314th Airlift Wing vice commander, said Friday.

“The 314th Airlift Wing’s C-130 training mission and the 463rd Airlift Group’s combat mission here directly correlates to taking convoys off the roads in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Vlahos said. “Ensuring we have a fully functional runway here means saving lives in our global war on terrorism.”

Pryor and Lincoln said they were pleased to secure funding for the runway to ensure the 314th Airlift Wing has a fully functional airfield to support mission-essential flying training.

“Little Rock Air Force Base has proven itself over and over again to be one of the nation’s top-notch training facilities,” Pryor said. “I’m determined to keep it that way. These airfield upgrades are expensive but necessary to our missions around the globe.”

The base needs the money to replace runways worn by the relentless take-offs and landings at the nation’s premiere C-130 center.

The airfield was built in 1955 and is in a state of deterioration, which could hinder combat readiness and may endanger the lives of aircrews and their aircraft.

The funding allows the base to repair the deteriorated runway and shoulder pavements, remove or eliminate airfield obstructions, replace runway lighting, and reorganize instrument guidance and navigation systems.

Lincoln believes investing in the nation’s military installments and strategic operations is essential for the “safety and security of our citizens and our homeland.”

She praised service members for carrying on the state’s long military tradition.

Education center

Senate and House conferees will negotiate the differences between the two versions of the joint education center bill, which was approved in the House but not in the Senate.

Pryor and Lincoln said they are committed to working with Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, to include an additional $9.8 million for the base’s education facility.

The Senate Armed Services subcommittee had stripped money for the center from the bill. Snyder said the Arkansas congressional delegation has “strong support for the center, but it is an expensive project.”

The Jacksonville-LRAFB education center, a first-of-its-kind collaboration between a community and a base, is expected to cost about $15 million.

Jacksonville residents in 2003 passed a two-year penny sales tax and already have their share, $5 million, in the bank.
Snyder and the delegation hope to restore the Air Force’s share of the project either on the Senate floor or in the joint conference committee.

The joint education center, to be constructed on the civilian side of the base perimeter – outside the fence, but on the base – is authorized as a multi-purpose educational facility that meets Air Force standards for distance learning, video teleconferencing and seminar needs.

Currently, the education center is housed in two inadequate converted dormitories that provide a limited scope of academic offerings due to space constraints and distance from the base library, according to Nancy Shefflette, director of the ASU-Beebe LRAFB Degree Center and former colonel at LRAFB.

The idea for the joint education center, which will be 50,000 square-feet, grew out of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the problem of making the classes more assessable to civilians at times of high alert, Shefflette said.

Other construction

Camp Robinson will receive $5.5 million to improve its ammunition supply point, providing specially designed anti-terrorism force protection upgrades, improvements to parking, fencing, outside lighting, access road improvements, perimeter fence installation and key card control access.

Camp Robinson’s Professional Education Center (PEC) will receive $18.4 million to build a new complex for the GED Plus program.

The facility, housed on 4.5 acres, will include barracks, classrooms, a dining area and administrative offices.

The PEC is the national training center for the Army National Guard and hosts more than 20,000 conferees annually from the National Guard, Army Reserve, active Army, Department of Defense, state and federal agencies.

As a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, Arkansas is also slated to receive $31.3 million to build a joint force vehicle maintenance facility at Ft. Chaffee and $12.2 million to build an Armed Forces Reserve Center building in Arkadelphia.