House spending bill includes transition funds for 188th Wing

WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee last week set aside $50 million in its annual defense bill to deal with the cost of mission changes within the Air Force National Guard.

The funding should be sufficient to cover any transition costs that the 188th Fighter Wing and other Air Guard units may face in the next fiscal year, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said Wednesday.

Womack, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, said the initial Air Force budget request for fiscal year 2014 did not include specific funding for the transitions — raising some concerns about possible delays in launching new missions.

“It seemed like the water was at least muddy on whether or not there was adequate funding set aside in FY’14 for this transition,” he said. “There was an effort made to basically plug in a number that would solve the problem.”

The Air Force plans to begin drawing down the A-10 Warthogs in Fort Smith starting in September with the last aircraft leaving in the summer of 2014.

As the aircraft are drawn down, personnel are expected to enter a two- to three-year conversion program to reach “Initial Operational Capability,” according to Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.

The Air Force budget request, however, did not set aside any funding to pay for the transition training — an issue first raised in May by U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.

Womack also brought the issue up at a House hearing that month, which prompted the committee to earmark funds to make sure the resources are in place to keep the transition to a new mission on schedule.

“The 188th and other units will have the level of funding necessary to begin the train up in the transition,” he said.

The House is now debating a farm bill and it is uncertain when the defense bill will be brought to the floor. Womack does not expect there will be objections to the transition funding, but he is prepared to battle for it.

“We will fight like hell to keep it there,” he said. “The 188th is so important to Fort Smith, economically and emotionally. It is a huge, huge issue for this community.”