Leader Blues

Friday, January 16, 2009

TOP STORY > >Air base in top shape for future, Schatz says

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Reorganization of Little Rock Air Force Base, progress on the Joint Education Center and toward a new elementary school on base, the addition of several C-130Js and the hiring of well-respected builders and contractors to finish rehabilitating base housing are among the many good things that happened during Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz’s watch as base commander.

“I’ll be the deputy director of global operations on the joint staff,” Schatz said on Friday. This is the largest deputy directorate on the staff, with responsibility for nuclear weapons, surveillance, recognizance, information operations, cyber warfare and for maintaining command and control for the national military command center.

Now, as Schatz prepares to hand over his command Jan. 28 to Col. Greg Otey, he reflected on his nearly two years at Little Rock. Otey helped stand up the C-130 Weapons School at the base in the 1990s.

In October, the Air Force retired the 463 Airlift Wing, an expeditionary force based at standing up in its place the 19th Airlift Wing, Schatz commanding, and made it the host wing at LRAFB while retaining its task as a war-fighting wing.

“It will be long hours, but its where the action is,” he added.

The 314th Airlift Wing of the Air Education and Training Command remains at the base as the premiere C-130 training facility in the nation.

Continuing that reorganization, particularly with the 19th Airlift Wing taking charge of C130 squadrons at some other bases, will be among the challenges facing Otey, Schatz said.

The 19th Airlift Wing will be experiencing some growth at other locations,” Schatz said. Right now it has an active associated C-130 squadron at Cheyenne, Wyo. Just coming up to operational status. That squadron is aligned with the Air National Guard.

This spring the 19th will pick up operational command of one C-130 squadron and one C-130 medical-evacuation squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., a squadron at Colorado Springs and a unit at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

It will be harder to keep a hand on the pulse of those satellite commands, Schatz said, and that will be one of Otey’s challenges.

Two thirds of all U.S. military C-130s will be under the command of the 19th AW, Schatz said.

Schatz said he will miss not only his airmen and officers, but the community leaders with whom he worked in Jacksonville, Cabot and Sherwood.

He said the air show this summer was a highlight, as well as the opportunity to host a reception at the Clinton Presidential Center.

American Eagle Communities walked away from its housing privatization contract to build or rehabilitate more than 1,000 units at the base in May of 2007, just as Schatz was taking command.

Now, just before he leaves, a new and highly respected team of builders and managers—Hunt-Pinnacle LLC has bought out the contract and begun cleaning up behind American Eagle and preparing to restart construction.

“We did a lot behind the scenes,” he said.

Calling the C-130 “my first love,” Schatz said it was a treat for a general officer to fly once a week and he would miss that.

Schatz said that he and other base personnel have worked to make local schools better. Disappointed by the Pulaski County Special School District offerings at Jacksonville, the general’s two sons attend private schools here, although they will return to public schools when he moves to Fairfax County outside Washington.

“The public schools in Arkansas don’t perform that well,” he said and the base wanted to do what it could to improve that.
Under his command, a group commander was assigned in the short term to each of the four PCSSD schools that children of those in base housing attend to help facilitate volunteers.

Longer range, personnel and the brass have worked with the school board and principals, even hosting a meeting of the school board.

He has been supportive of an independent Jacksonville School District.

“We want people to want to fight to come here for the good schools,” he said.