by Maj. Chris Heathscott
Arkansas National Guard State Public Affairs Officer
11/23/2011 - FORT SMITH, Ark. -- The adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard met with members of the 188th Fighter Wing Nov. 22 to address concerns relating to pending budget cuts within the Department of Defense. With DoD facing its greatest cuts since World War II, the future of the 188th - one of five A-10 units in the Air National Guard - has been the subject of multiple conversations.
"We wanted to clarify some rumors that are floating around," said Maj. Gen. William D. Wofford, the adjutant general. "The reality is, after visiting with the director for the Air National Guard, the 188th could potentially be under consideration. What we've been told is that anything and everything is on the table. At this point we don't know what the cuts are going to be in the DoD budget."
The Department of Defense is already facing proposed budget cuts of $450 billion, but with the Super Committee's deadline met without decision those cuts will potentially double. Wofford said there have been no official talks of changes to the force structure in Arkansas at this point, but added "We don't want to take anything for granted."
"We've got to show that the Fort Smith unit is the most cost effective A-10 unit in the Air Force," said Wofford. "We think we've got a good argument. With Fort Chaffee right next door, they can be on the range in just a matter of minutes. From a flying hour perspective, we've got a good argument for taxpayers."
The unit's location is not only a benefit in terms of taxpayer dollars, but also a tremendous strategic benefit in being centrally located in the nation. Following the aerial attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the unit was immediately called to deploy its force of F-16s at the time to protect America's skies from border to border.
Those fast and furious fighters transitioned out of Fort Smith in 2007 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Committee recommendations of 2005. The resulting spark of community and congressional support helped the 188th earn its current mission aircraft, the A-10 Thunderbolt II. Wofford assured the unit's force of 350 full-time Airmen that that same support would no doubt be there for the 188th as needed in the future. The 188th has a total of more than 1,000 unit members.
"As part of the Arkansas Air Guard's strategic plan, we've got to be looking beyond right now. What do we need 10 years from now, 20 years from now, so we can stay relevant," said Wofford. "From a long-range planning perspective, we want to keep the A-10. That's our number one priority, but we would like at some point in the future to transition to the F-35."
Wofford said the location of the base would make it an ideal candidate strategically for the F-35, as it was for the F-16. And while the F-35 is not currently an available mission for the unit, it is a possible option for the future of this unit, which has already proven its readiness to respond and commitment to serve.
"Nobody knows what's going to happen yet but whatever happens is not going to occur until after the unit's upcoming deployment," said Wofford.
The unit is slated for an Air Expeditionary Forces rotation to Afghanistan in 2012, after having already logged 2,870 combat flight hours there in 2010.
Stressing that there has been nothing official handed down reference the 188th, General Wofford said he wanted to help ease rumors in the unit while preparing the troops for that potential fight in the future.
"I wanted the people to know we were going to be up front with them," Wofford said of his meeting with the troops Nov. 22. "We've heard the same rumors they have. We've got the same concerns they do. The earliest we would probably know would be February, when the president's budget comes out. We can't wait till February to tell our story and make the case. We've got to work now."