Leader Blues

Friday, July 03, 2009

TOP STORY >> Col. Otey wants separate district

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Col. Gregory Otey endeared himself to the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce this week by endorsing the effort to form a standalone Jacksonville school district and also by seeing off former Mayor Tommy Swaim with a couple of well-choreographed audio visual gags.

Speaking at the chamber’s quarterly meeting Tuesday, the Little Rock Air Force Base commander said that when airmen learn of a new posting, they immediately go online to research the area schools before deciding where to buy or rent a home.

Of the re-energized efforts to privatize, build and renovate airbase housing, Otey said, “We’ve got to be sure privatized housing works this time.” The ribbon cutting for the first 10 new homes completed was held later that day. (See picture, p. 7A.)
Otey, who has both of his children in Pulaski County Special School District Schools, commended the work of “Daniel (Gray) and some of the folks here,” to improve existing schools and get a Jacksonville district.

At the end of Otey’s slide presentation — flow charts, faces, aircraft and new projects like the Joint Education Center and the new planned Base Exchange — was a video of an officer calling to congratulate Swaim on his service as Jacksonville mayor.

This was just hours before the mayor was to hand off the job to Gary Fletcher.

“Just wanted to thank you, sir,” said the video officer. “I remember when your dad was mayor.”

Then he covers the phone speaker as he was told it was not Swaim’s father but rather Swaim all that time — 22 years.

Swaim smiled broadly through that and another gag, and the audience laughed appreciatively.

“Was he around when Orville flew?” one asked.

“We are surrounded by a community that cares,” Otey said.

Otey said the 19th Air Mobility Wing has 50 C-130s, 14 of them the new J-model, with another expected next week.

That includes planes currently deployed in the Middle East and around the world. That includes the 41st Airlift Squadron, which is all C-130Js.

Otey said 15 percent of the planes, on average, are deployed every day.

The 314th Airlift Wing, also at the base, has 33 C-130s, and seven of those are C-130Js.

Otey also reminded the chamber that the air base directly or indirectly puts more than half-a-billion dollars into the economy of central Arkansas, much of it in the Jacksonville and Cabot area.