Thursday, November 6, 2008

Guard shows stuff at Camp Robinson

Jacksonville Patriot

By Bill Lawson, Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008 1:53 PM CDT

The chief of the Air National Guard and business leaders from seven states watched in awe Thursday afternoon at Camp Robinson's All-American Drop Zone as Arkansas and Kentucky National Guard members displayed their capability to capture an airfield and defend it.

Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, a native of Florida and recently named as chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington, said he was impressed with the demonstration and thought the business leaders were also.

He said the need for employer support of Guard members is at an all-time high.

"We're at war, and it's a long war," McKinley said. "We've got to continue to outreach to the community."

One message the general said he tells employers is that guardsmen bring sought-after characteristics to any job.

"The National Guard brings great qualities to the work force — the military work force and the civilian work force," McKinley said. "We're a drug-free organization. We have high physical fitness standards. Our education standards are extremely high."

Called Operation Support Freedom, Maj. Michael Lewis of Jacksonville, a C-130 instructor navigator with the 189th Airlift Wing, said the operation was a capabilities exercise designed to showcase the total force abilities of the men and women of the Arkansas Army and Air National Guard. He said those involved were a four-person combat control team from Kentucky that parachuted onto the field, two A-10 jet aircraft from Fort Smith's 188th Fighter Wing, four UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from Camp Robinson and a security team from the 189th.

In the exercise, insurgents had captured part of the airfield and the A-10s were brought in to attack them. After several passes, the Blackhawk helicopters made strafing runs designed to destroy any remaining enemy forces, but the A-10s were called back in to finish the job as C-130s dropped cargo by parachutes from 600 feet. The A-10s continued to fly combat air patrol over the site.

The 55 civic leaders and numerous military personnel watching from a grandstand on the drop zone were warned that the A-10s were inbound but they were surprised with the two Warthogs popped up from behind Clinton Mountain just north of the drop zone, banked hard and came screaming into the drop zone in front of them, dropping their simulated bombs at the simulated enemy.

It was suppression attack for which the WartHogs are designed and became known during the first and second Iraq wars. In fact, officials said most of the aircraft were mothballed until they again proved their close air support superiority during those wars.

One of the civic leaders said the WartHogs were on top of them before they even heard them.

The Blackhawks from Camp Robinson's 77th Aviation Brigade all are veterans of Iraq, where they lost one helicopter in one of the worst single casualty crashes in Iraq.

Employers were enthusiastic in their support of the Guard.

"We cherish our Guard members," said Vincent Horton of Geo Group Inc. of Hobbs, N.M. "We know and understand what we need to do to meet their needs."

Another employer said the program opened her eyes.

"I'm getting ready to hire, and this excellent program today is putting a new light on my hiring decision," said Carla Helton of the U.S. Postal Service in Camdenton, Mo.

Area military leaders were happy to show off the state's capabilities.

"We think this is a great opportunity to showcase not only the 189th [Airlift Wing] but the Air National Guard in this region of the United States and demonstrate employer support to the Guard and Reserve and express our appreciation for everything [employers] do," said Maj. Gen. Bill Wofford, Arkansas adjutant general said.

Civic leaders came from Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado.

A-10 Warthogs from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith fly simulated combat missions Thursday at Camp Robinson to demonstrate their capability to three-star Gen. Craig McKinley, who soon will take command of the National Guard Bureau and civic leaders. Maj. Mike Meason and Capt. Andrew Nash, both of Fort Smith, piloted the two A-10s through the close air support missions at Camp Robinson. (Courtesy John Paul Jones)


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