Thursday, January 31, 2013

Commentary: From the desk of the Wing commander - the way forward

Released by 188th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Commentary by Col. Mark W. Anderson
188th Fighter Wing commander

1/30/2013 - FORT SMITH, Ark. -- Members of the 188th Fighter Wing, I wanted to provide you with an update on some of the recent events and some words on the way forward.

The visit from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III went extremely well thanks to the tireless efforts of countless members. Gen. Welsh arrived on the evening of Jan. 17 and departed about 2:30 p.m. that next day.

On the first day Gen. Welsh was treated to a first-class reception by the community at the Movie Lounge. The next day the community lined the streets in support of the 188th as he entered the base.

We then gave him our value and capabilities brief with rock-star guest speakers from the Army and Air Force Special Forces talking about their experiences here.

In addition, former 188th pilot Maj. Jay Spohn (first Air National Guard pilot to fly the F-35) spoke about how the F-35 would fare here. Then we took Gen. Welsh on a base tour. After the tour it was on to Operations to observe a live mission data link of Navy SEALS and A-10C Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" training at Fort Chaffee.

Following Ops, we traveled by helo to Razorback Range where he saw first-hand our A-10s supporting a close-air Support mission with Air Force Special Forces, and Army UH-60 Black Hawks and CH-47 Chinooks.

Afterwards, we flew back to base where he, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.; U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.; U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers; and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, heard amazing accounts from the recent deployment to Bagram, Afghanistan.

I believe Gen. Welsh and Lt. Gen. Wyatt were very impressed with our Airmen as well as our capabilities, facilities and training partners. In fact, I've recently heard several instances where they were both bragging on Fort Smith.

However, in the end the Air Force still intends to remove the A-10 from service. That combined with the ANG's Capstone Principal No. 1 (at least one flying wing/state) means that we will be converting to new missions.

The new mission
The good thing is we have a mission -- a great mission -- one that will keep the majority of jobs in the Fort Smith community. This mission will be remotely piloted aircraft and intelligence. In both areas, we will have regular engagement in some of the most important and contested regions of the world.

Our talented Airmen will be collecting, analyzing, targeting on a real-time basis from home-station. These missions will have both tactical elements and national strategic implications.

The 188th should be extremely proud that we have been entrusted with such a critical component of our nation's defense. Bottom line: When the conversion is finished, the 188th will have a more direct and more frequent impact on our nation's global engagements than ever before.

The conversion
The conversion starts now. We've had the 188th conversion team in place for several weeks now and they are doing outstanding work. The overall conversion project officer is Lt. Col. Toby "Yobi" Brallier; his assistant is Lt. Col. John Easley. Under their direction, we have the conversion committee and several subcommittees. The subcommittees include: Personnel/training, facilities, operations, intel and maintenance.

Each subcommittee will have a counterpart assigned from ANG to assist and provide guidance. For the full-time members: The union and the Arkansas National Guard Human Resources Office will be heavily involved in every step along the way. Although we are making significant progress, we do need three items from ANG in order to move from the planning stage to the execution stage. Until we get the timeline, the manning document, and have the SATAF, we will be somewhat limited on specific plans.

I promise you, the conversion team is 100 percent committed to pushing information to our members. They already have designed several information sharing plans which you will hear about soon.

In fact, they even have a series of briefings planned for Sunday, Feb. 3. There will be qualified people from most of the major new career fields sharing information. These experts are coming to talk about their jobs, including qualifications, training, work schedule, critical skills, etc. These briefings will be given several times throughout the day and are open to all unit members. We will film the briefings for those that are unable to attend.

I'd like to take a minute to try to manage transition expectations. Please understand, this conversion will be the 188th's largest and most challenging mission change to date. First, since the FY-13 National Defense Authorization Act changed so much and was so controversial, the Air Force and ANG planners got a late start.

As a result, some personnel/training actions may happen faster than what we would like. Second, the mission change is the most radical in the 60-year history of the 188th. This will require long off-station training courses for most of those who convert. Training lengths will vary but it won't be uncommon for some members to be off-station for 4-9 months.

Third, significant construction will be required. Until the construction is complete some will likely have to go TDY to maintain proficiency awaiting permanent facilities. And finally, the nature of any conversion lends itself to some downtime. Some will train early and will have to wait on facilities and others to catch up before we can do the mission here.

Some will train late while awaiting school slots. In either scenario, our leaders must stay engaged and ensure our Airmen are cared for, are focused, and are as productive as possible.

None of the obstacles ahead of us are insurmountable. We will be extremely organized and will communicate well. Best of all, we have outstanding Airmen, NCOs and officers that excel in these challenges. We will do fine; just be patient, as it won't all happen overnight.

The budget
I'm sure you've seen the recently released NGB budget guidance. Until Congress and the President release a fiscal plan, all expenses will be highly scrutinized to ensure only mission essential expenditures are made.

Please look at the NGB guidance for details (S:\FW\FW\Command & Control\FM); however, if you're unsure if expenditure is authorized, please contact Lt. Col. Grace Ryals or 1st Lt. Rick Carman from the Comptroller Flight at 479-573-5369 if you are uncertain.

There are some cases where I am authorized to make exceptions to the guidance for mission critical activities. Fortunately, most of the restrictions are not going to be a huge impact on the 188th.

The inspection
Good news! Due to the conversion, the Unit Compliance Inspection (UCI) portion of the inspection is cancelled. It will be rescheduled for after we officially declare operational readiness in the new missions.

The other parts of the compliance visit are still being worked by the Air Force Inspector General team. I'm very optimistic that the Logistics Compliance Assessment Program (LCAP) inspection and the Combat Shield inspection will also be cancelled.

However, I believe the Health Services Inspection (HSI) will go as scheduled. For all of you that have been working on your programs and particularly MICT, thank you. The organization is better for your actions. Checklist owners (except Ops and Maintenance) keep working on your MICT; those will be needed in the upcoming months for our Management Internal Control Plan.

I am so proud of this organization. The 188th has powered through a ton of adversity and uncertainty the past couple of years and we are stronger for it. The good news is we now we have a way forward. Airmen, keep the fantastic attitude. Officers and NCOs, keep leading and communicating. We have an amazing team and we are going to excel in everything the future holds.

I'm honored to be your commander. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.


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