Leader Blues

Friday, February 01, 2008

TOP STORY >> Base impresses general

By CHRISTY HENDRICKS
Leader staff writer

Maj. Gen. Irving Halter Jr., commander of the 19th Air Force at San Antonio, told members of Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council on Friday they don’t have much to worry about in the next round of base realignment and closures planned for the next decade, although some assets could be moved around the base.

“BRAC is a four-letter word,” the general said, “and for Little Rock Air Force Base, it’s a good one.”

But he warned communities cannot take bases for granted.

“You all in this community never have,” the general said. “Little Rock and the surrounding area thought patriotism was cool before other places ever heard of it.

“While we are rightly focused on those who are fighting the current war, we have to prepare for the future,” he said. “Protecting this country is an important business and we need the support of this country to do that.

“I’m very impressed by the size of the council,” Halter said. “I’ve never seen a council with this big attendance at something I’ve spoken at.”

Gen. Rowayne Schatz, the commander at LRAFB, later told the luncheon that work on a $15 million education center in the front of the air base will start next January. Jacksonville is paying for one-third of the cost of the campus.

A $9.8 million runway-repair project will start in October, Schatz said. Halter spoke of the military’s two concurrent missions — to “fight the current fight and be successful at it” and “to prepare or the next one.”

“This nation needs to be the nation it is 10 years, 15 years 100 years from now,” he told council members.

Halter also spoke about the Air Force’s role in Iraq, mentioning that the Air Force has had “five times the number of conventional strikes this year” than in years past.

“Whatever happens to ground forces, we’ll be there,” he said of the troops in Iraq. Halter spoke of Iraq as a “you break it, you fix it” situation. “We broke the Iraqi air force…but now the Iraqi air force is our responsibility,” he said of training the Iraqi air force by U.S. forces. “Sometimes we [service members] need to remind others that everybody’s involved in this fight.”

Halter also spoke of the state of aircraft in the Air Force, mentioning that many aircraft being flown were flown by the fathers of those who fly them now. He said that at the current projection, the last people to fly such aircraft “have yet to be born.”

“It’s a triumph of American industry that these planes have flown this long,” he said. He talked about the Air Force Road Map, a long-term plan for maximizing Air Force capabilities to meet threats to the nation’s security.

There has been some discussion to transfer the lead wing here from Air Education and Training Command to Air Mobility Command, which are both assigned to the base.

“We saw the number of planes assigned here from AMC and we have to look at ‘do we have the right lead wing here?’” He said that if the discussion becomes a reality that it wouldn’t affect those stationed at LRAFB.

“Nobody is backing off,” he said. “AETC loves Little Rock and we will still love Little Rock if we no longer own it.”
As for the Air Force Road Map, Halter says “everything’s going good for Little Rock.”

“We look across the Air Force to see where we can put certain things,” he said. “We need a planning document that helps us as a service that helps us get where we need to go.” This means the road map is a guide to which bases are best suited for which mission, aircraft, personnel and other assets.

Halter believes that LRAFB is “making strides to make things better.” He said that the Air Force will watch the progress on the education center, which could “be a model for other bases.”

Schatz said he’s looking for a January 2009 groundbreaking for the education center. He also mentioned that work to fix the base’s runways will start in October, after the air show.

He also said that new facilities for Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementaries are now on the Pulaski County Special School District’s facilities master plan. He thanked Halter and his wife, Judy, for the support they give Little Rock Air Force Base.

Schatz also spoke of the base’s partnership with Camp Robinson. He said the base is providing a great deal of medical, dental and other care to help prepare the 39th Infantry Brigade for its deployment overseas.

“We are good partners with the Arkansas National Guard, who are going to do the right thing,” he said.

New officers are Col. Bill Kehler (retired), president; Jay Chesshir, vice president; Mike Wilkinson, treasurer; Barbara Merrick, membership chair; Marlene Eddlemon, historian; and Rhonda Ryan, secretary. Outgoing president Carmie Henry passed the gavel to Kehler.

Attorney Mike Wilson read a resolution by the Community Council executive committee honoring Schatz for his efforts to secure schools for the base. The resolution was approved by the council.

The council also presented a check for $10,000 to Joan Zumwalt for the Jacksonville Museum of Military History.
Halter commands the 19th Air Force at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, which trains nearly 25,000 U.S. and allied students each year.

The 19th Air Force is composed of more than 38,000 total force personnel and 1,720 aircraft. Halter spoke Friday night at annual air base awards banquet.