Tuesday, March 20, 2012

EDITORIAL >> How base impacts us

Little Rock Air Force Base pumped more than $780 million into the central Arkansas economy in fiscal year 2011. That figure includes the 189th Air National Guard Wing assigned to LRAFB. The Guard’s economic impact alone was $66 million last year.

The economic impact at the air base has more than doubled since 2000, when it was estimated at $351 million.

According to the Pentagon, the military payroll last year, including military members, civilian employees and contractors, was $457 million. The air base was also responsible for 3,317 indirect jobs worth $19 million, or about $39,000 per job.

The fiscal year ran from July 2010 through June 2011.

According to the report, the military spent $37 million on construction projects during the last fiscal year, another $37 million on material, equipment and supplies and $19 million on services.

There are more than 90 C-130s assigned to the base, as well as 5,506 active-duty members, plus 131 reservists and another 2,497 trainees or cadets. An additional 370 active-duty airmen are to be assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing this fall, and some 650 reservists will arrive in the next year or so—for a total well above 9,000 military members.

Add to that 6,505 dependents, 668 civilian jobs, 49 contract employees and 54,474 retirees, and you realize there are more military-related folks in central Arkansas than there are people in Jacksonville and Cabot combined.

The base has been modernizing its cargo planes, having added 26 new C-130Js to the flightline—almost one third of its fleet. They cost approximately $98 million a piece, or about $2.5 billion all told.

We’ve often added up the construction projects on base and noted that they can approach $100 million in just a couple of years. The base certainly needs that much just to repair the damage from last year’s tornado.

Projects have included new headquarters for airlift wings and squadrons, new air-control towers, dorms, gyms and dining rooms, runway repairs, fiberoptic cables and much more.

But we’re talking about more than just impressive numbers when it comes to our base. As significant as those figures are, it’s the thousands of men and women flying over our neighborhoods and deploying overseas who make the LRAFB the center of excellence for C-130 airlift and training.

Combat airlift crews have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade, putting lives at risk and straining relationships.

The tempo has been nonstop since 9/11. But as the wars wind down in Southwest Asia, those airmen will finally catch a break.

Their sacrifices cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Their courage and patriotism come from the heart, for which we are more than grateful. We would be much diminished without them.