NORTH LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas National Guard’s 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith is an “efficient … outfit” and it makes no sense to change its current mission, Gov. Mike Beebe said Thursday.
The governor, in a speech at Camp Robinson, also said two bills will be filed during the upcoming legislative session to make life a little easier for spouses and children of service personnel stationed at military installations in the state.
Last month, Congress passed a $640.5 billion defense authorization bill that included replacing the A-10 fighters at the 188th with a drone mission. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III is scheduled to visit Fort Smith next week to tour the facility in advance of his base closure decision.
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and state military officials, including Adj. General William Wofford of the Arkansas National Guard are to visit with Welsh and discuss the future of the 188th.
“When talking about the 188th over in Fort Smith, there’s probably not a more efficient A-10 outfit in America than that outfit,” Beebe told a crowd of about 200 people attending a meeting of the state’s three military community councils. “This isn’t just paternalistic prejudice on my part in favor of that wing. It’s based on fact.”
Beebe said the A-10s train within minutes of the base and “they don’t have to fly across half a state or two states to get to a training facility.
“They don’t have to spend all that additional money on fuel just to be properly trained to do their mission,” he said.
“If you don’t think the National Guard is capable of fulfilling on an equal basis the missions with their full-time counterparts, then why are we sending them to Afghanistan to begin with? And they’re going into harms way side-by-side with the regular units,” Beebe said, noting that the 188th returned in October from a deployment in Afghanistan.
The governor also told the crowd that the pilots flying the A-10s are in the Air National Guard and not full-time military personnel.
“So if you want to save fuel, if you want to save operational money, if you want to save in salaries, and you still want to have a very competent, professional organization, if you’re going to leave one A-10 outfit in the whole world, whether its regular or guard or reserve, it ought to be the 188th if you are trying to really efficiently save money,” he said.
During his speech, the governor also briefly discussed military-related legislation to be filed during the regular session that convenes Monday.
One of the measures would allow Arkansas to enter into a compact with other states and the armed forces to make it easier for children of military personnel who transfer from one school district to another.
“The compact … makes it easier for the transition from district to district, from state to state, with regard to educational achievement, educational requirements and opportunity for our children,” the governor said.
The other bill would allow spouses of personnel stationed at military installations in Arkansas to transfer any professional licenses or degrees they might have in other states.
“They ought to be able to take their teaching certificate, which is eligible in Ohio or New York, or their nursing license, which is eligible in California or Oregon, and with appropriate checks … there needs to be an easy path for a temporary license to allow them to do it in Arkansas,” Beebe said.
During the meeting, Wofford thanked the state’s congressional delegation and the three military community councils for their work in trying to keep the 188th’s mission and encouraging the Air Force chief of staff to come to the state next week.
“One thing we really emphasize in the military is teamwork,” he said. “Without the total support of our community councils here in North Little Rock, the Little Rock Air Force Base and Fort Smith we couldn’t accomplish what we do,” Wofford said.