Leader Blues

Thursday, January 17, 2008

TOP STORY >> Schatz sees progress on base

Leader senior staff writer

Despite an overall reduction in the Air Force, Little Rock Air Force Base continues in growth mode, Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz told about 20 people at the Cabot Rotary meeting Tuesday.

Schatz is base commander of the 314th Air Education Command at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Overall, in recent years, the number of Air Force members has dropped from 34,000 to 32,000, but the most recent round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) will have redirected between 200 and 400 additional personnel to the base by over three years, he said, along with 15 additional C-130s.

Virtually all C-130 crews in all U.S. forces and in 31 allied nations are trained at Little Rock Air Force Base, he said.

“This is pretty special,” he said. Every C-130 flying in Iraq—all tie their roots back to (the base,)” according to the general. “That includes those flown by Iraqi crews.”

In addition, the base is in the running to provide training for the new, shorter, joint-military transport plane, a new generation of airlifter.

Schatz said the Defense Department had changed course on the C-130J, opting to continue replacing the 1962-1963 C-130Es still in use. “I don’t even think Eddie Joe’s Chevelle’s that old,” he said, referring to the Cabot mayor’s car.

C-130s have flown enough personnel and material to and in Iraq to have moved every man, woman and child in Cabot and their belonging to Iraq and back twice in the last year.

“The secretary of the Air Force has called Little Rock the Center of Excellence for tactical airlifters and that any changes (diminishing its role) must go through him,” Schatz said.

That keeps convoys off the roads and away from improvised explosive devices. In addition, the 463 Airlift Wing of the Air Mobility Command, which is now permanently billeted at the base, has grown from two wings to three and should stand up its fourth wing by next fall, he said.

The Arkansas National Guard’s 123rd Intelligence Unit, stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, is literally flying the unmanned predators over Iraqi and Afghan combat zones, downloading the data at LRAFB, doing target analysis and passing the information “back to theatre,” Schatz said, where decisions may be made to attack identified terrorists with bombs or ground troops.

All that’s via satellite feeds. Then they can go to their central Arkansas homes and be with their families.
“That keeps them out of harm’s way,” he said.

Schatz also said that the recent military construction budget had identified about $10 million to spend on repairing and updating runways at the base, and a like amount to proceed with the long-sought LRAFB/Jacksonville joint education center.
Several colleges will offer classes at the new facility, which will be built on base land, but outside the main gate and the fenced perimeter, making it more accessible to civilians in the Jacksonville and Cabot areas.

Schatz announced that both the Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team and the Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team would participate in the annual Air Power Arkansas celebration, slated for the base on the third weekend of October.