By Jeff Arnold
Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 9:40 am | Updated: 9:48 am, Fri Jan 27, 2012
A plan for slowing the growth of military spending the Pentagon outlined Thursday didn't provide anything definitive about the future of the 188th Fighter Wing, said Tom Anderson, wing commander.
"He (Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta) talked more about the 30,000-foot overview versus the down-in-the weeds tactical view of what they're going to do," Anderson said.
Anderson said neither Panetta nor Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made any mention of the 188th or A-10s during their news conference, which he watched from his office.
Panetta provided an overview of some cuts recommended by the Pentagon, which must cut $487 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years. The cuts included, but were not limited to:
- Closure of six of the Air Force's 60 tactical squadrons, although Panetta didn't indicate if the Pentagon already has identified those units.
- A reduction in active-duty Army soldiers from their current level of 562,000 to 490,00 in five years and a reduction in Marines from 200,000 to 182,000.
- Asking Congress to approve a new round of domestic military base closures, with the goal of identifying additional savings.
The 188th is among the Air Force's 60 tactical squadrons, but Anderson reiterated that nothing was said about the 188th being among the six units that would be closed.
"I saw no details of specific units anywhere and certainly no details of specifics in the combat air force," Anderson said.
Anderson said a significant reduction in ground troops isn't overly concerning in the larger scheme of overall budget cuts because the A-10 isn't the only air platform that protects troops on the ground.
The primary mission of the 188th is providing close-air ground support for ground troops.
"When it comes to doing that, we are very good at it as an A-10 platform; not just the 188th, the A-10 is superior at doing that," Anderson said.
Retired Col. Kevin Wear, chairman of the 188th Fighter Wing Community Steering Committee, said despite it being an election year, he expects Congress to approve moving forward with evaluating bases for closure but doesn't expect any will be recommended for closure before 2013. Wear was wing commander of the 188th from May 2006 until October 2008.
In July 2005, the Pentagon recommended stripping the 188th of its primary mission, F-16 fighters, pilots and about 700 employees. A local task force guided by civic leaders appealed that decision to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which in August 2005 voted to remove F-16s from the 188th and replace them with A-10s.
Anderson said he wasn't surprised at Panetta's announcement that President Barack Obama would ask Congress to approve a new round of closures, but he didn't totally expect the announcement.
"That is in part a way they're going to try to pay the bills, because if they do make the cuts they're talking about there will be some places that probably wouldn't be economically effective for them to keep open," Anderson said.
Wear echoed Anderson's sentiment that the Pentagon news conference provided little insight on the future of the 188th.
"It was pretty large scale on how they plan to orchestrate our national defense strategy based on the budget cuts and the type of wars we're fighting … could be awhile before we hear anything specific," Wear said.
But based on the enormity of cuts recommended, even without specifics, Wear said it's obvious the cuts will affect everybody to some degree.
Anderson said he spoke to Maj. Gen. William Wofford, adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, after the news conference, and Wofford remains committed to keeping a flying mission in Fort Smith.
The 188th, deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010, is slated for another Air Expeditionary Forces rotation to Afghanistan this year. The 188th has a force of 350 full-time airmen.