Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

TOP STORY > >General sees big gains for C-130Js

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

With a dozen more C-130Js on the way, resumption of the long-stalled base-housing privatization program and full funding for the joint education center all on the front burner, Brig. General Rowayne Schatz said in an interview that the future looks bright at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Additionally, groundbreaking for a new base exchange is slated for Thursday, and a new cafeteria for enlisted airmen opened last month.

Currently, the new 19th Airlift Wing has 13 state-of-the-art C-130Js and is slated to receive three more over the next six to nine months, according to Schatz, who is base commander and commander of the 19th Air Mobility Wing—an expeditionary force that usually has about 15 percent of its airmen in or near Iraq and Afghanistan.

Schatz said that starting in about 2012, the wing should start receiving more C-130Js, “a second squad’s worth,” he said. That would, in time, be an additional 12 C-130Js.

The 314th Airlift Wing has another seven C-130Js to train all U.S. military crews flying or maintaining that plane, as well as crews from allies around the world.

“That’s the current budget and the current long-range de-fense program,” the general said, giving the base 35 C-130Js.

TEACHING IRAQI CREWS

Some in the 314th are deployed in the Mideast now, he said, teaching airmen in the Iraqi air force to fly and maintain C-130s, which will be an important job as the U.S. military phases out its duties there over the next three years.

Despite tough economic times likely to have the military looking at belt tightening, “there is broad-based support throughout the Air Force and other joint services and special operations command for the C-130J,” he said. “It remains to be seen what the new administration will come in with. We could buy more and we could buy less. “It’s a national decision whether we take the taxpayer dollars and buy those things or buy something else.”

He said the C-130J has proven itself in the theater of war. “We have several of them right now deployed in the Southeast Asia theater. They are performing very well and exceeding expectations with their extra power, range and additional capacity with two extra pallet positions,” the general said. “It’s the C-130 of choice.”

DEVELOPER PRAISED

Schatz seemed pleased with Hunt Pinnacle LLC, the developers who took over the failed base-housing privatization contract from American Eagle Communities.

The contract holder is to build new housing units, renovate old ones, own the units and manage them for 50 years, keeping the rents and doing the maintenance.

American Eagle either walked away from its building commitments at LRAFB and three other Air Force housing-privatization projects in May 2007 or was locked out for failing to do what it promised. Much of the time since then, the Air Force has been looking for a new developer and property manager to buy out American Eagle’s contract and finish building or remodeling 1,000 housing units on the base.

Hunt-Pinnacle, a long-time military housing-privatization team, signed the contract Nov. 4 to buy out the American Eagle Contracts at Little Rock, Moody, Hanscom and Patrick air bases.

The privatized housing is now called The Landings at Little Rock.

DOING MAINTENANCE

“They are here on the ground now,” Schatz said. “They were doing maintenance calls literally hours after the paperwork was signed for the sale. I’ve heard nothing but praise for the job they are doing.”

Hunt Pinnacle will begin in mid- or late January to finish out the partially constructed units started and abandoned by American Eagle last year, said Schatz, and they expect to restart work on the rest in the spring.

Schatz said instead of 1,200 total units, of which 468 were to have been new, H-P LLC. will build 165 completely new units, including the 25 completed by American Eagle, and would renovate 835 for a total of 1,000 units.

“I’m comfortable with that, given the state of the financial markets and money available,” the general said.

TOTAL MAKEOVER

The renovations will include new siding, new roofs, floor coverings, including carpet throughout, fresh paint, new kitchens and appliances, new bathroom fixtures and full HVAC renovation.

“That’s a good deal for our airmen and their families,” Schatz said.

Pinnacle Management has a wealth of experience in managing military and other housing, with more than one million units already managed nationwide, according to Schatz. He said they have software to help manage repairs and maintenance.

Hunt is an award-winning builder of military housing, and Schatz said he had seen their work at Scott Air Force Base.

Schatz said the Air Force was new to military housing privatization when American Eagle won its contracts, but that now it’s older and wiser, the new contract would receive much closer oversight, both locally and from its civil engineering office at Brooks, Texas.

“We’ll watch over their shoulders to make sure they deliver what they promised,” he said. “That’s not going to happen again.”

As for all the contractors and suppliers left in the lurch by American Eagle, “HP has promised that their checks are good,” Schatz said.

As for the two other major base building projects, work on the new base exchange is expected to begin in January and be done by summer 2010, he said, and the $14.8 million joint education center—a partnership between the base and the city of Jacksonville, could begin this summer.

Jacksonville residents taxed themselves $5 million to help provide a new, updated building for the college, outside the base perimeter.