Wednesday, April 06, 2005

NEIGHBORS>> A C-130 named Lonoke

Best kept secret is out with naming of plane

Story and photos by John Hofheimer

hen the Arkansas Air National Guard dubbed a C-130 “City of Lonoke” in a Saturday morning naming ceremony, the highlight—for those not subject to air sickness—was an hour-long flight, including a few turns about 2,000 feet above Lonoke.

“I saw my house real good,” said Sharon Rudder, director of the Lonoke Head Start Program. “I could see the horses, the cows and the barn.”

Mayor Thomas Privett, who pulled off the paper taped over the plane’s new name, was not so lucky.

Privett stood peering out the window without seeing the town, he said later.

About 40 Lonoke-area residents, including several jersey-wearing football players, aldermen Dick Bransford, Michael Florence, Efrem Jones and Wayne McGee, Chamber of Commerce President John Garner and Sean O’Nale, captain of the Lonoke Police Department, were among those who attended the dedication and the City of Lonoke’s maiden flight—if a 43-year-old plane with more than 25,000 air hours on it can be said to have a maiden flight.

O’Nale, himself a member of the 189th Air National Guard Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, nominated Lonoke for the honor.

O’Nale served a tour of duty in Iraq.

Col. Dwight Balch, commander of the 189th Airlift Wing, dedicated the plane, tail number 62-1784, as City of Lonoke.
For the Air National Guard, which labors in relative obscurity, surrounded at the 6,600 acre Little Rock Air Force Base, the naming ceremonies are a way to publicize both its existence and expertise—tools that could help in recruiting, according to Tech. Sgt. Bob Oldham, the public information officer.

Cabot and Searcy also are among the eight towns with C-130s named for them.

The Air Guard has only 10 C-130s, so when all have been named, the process will start over to honor and educate other Arkansas towns and cities, according to Oldham.

Lonoke resident M. Sgt. Dickey Burgess, with more than 4,000 air hours under his belt, served as flight engineer as the plane flew over Greer’s Ferry Lake and around Lonoke.

The rear cargo door was opened as the City of Lonoke flew over the lake, and someone’s ball cap was whisked out the door, dancing in the slipstream then headed toward the lake.

Prior to the dedication ceremony and flight, Col. Jim Crumpton told the Lonoke guests that the 189th Airlift Wing has been the most decorated Air National Guard unit in the country since it was formed in 1925.

While President Bush is commander in chief of the regular Air Force’s 314th Airlift Wing at the base, the Guard answers to Gov. Huckabee unless it has been mobilized to active duty, said Crumpton, vice commander of the wing.

The 314th trains pilots, navigators, loadmasters, maintainers and others, but the 189th trains the trainers.

Its other duties include disaster relief, dealing with civil unrest and airport security.

In addition to training the teachers, the 189th has an operations group, a maintenance group, a mission support group and a medical group.

Also on the base, taking advantage of administrative services offered by the 189th Airlift wing, is the Guard’s 123rd Intelligence group, which assesses aerial photographs in real time and helps select targets for the war fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, Oldham said.

Right now, the 189th has 41 volunteers from its civil engineering squadron in Baghdad.

Members of the 189th come from 121 Arkansas towns and cities. Its annual payroll is $21.1 million, with an economic impact around the state estimated at $41.3 million.

Oldham said future recruits would not necessarily come from those attending the Saturday ceremony, but perhaps by word of mouth.

Air Guardsmen can earn a lot toward college, he said, and the threat of deployment into a combat zone is small when compared to the Army Guard.

“We planted a seed,” he said.

While nationally, the National Guard and the Reserves are having trouble meeting recruiting quotas, he said, “On the air side, our wing is at 97 percent capacity.”

“We love to have all these city leaders, businessmen and parents to see what we do on a daily basis,” Oldham said.
“We’ve been the best kept secret for several years. You can’t just drive on base anymore, so this is one way to get people out here to meet our people and see what we do.”