Tuesday, January 08, 2013

TOP STORY >> Key roles for Guard, Reserves

Leader senior staff writer

The proposed reduction of 16 older model C-130 airlifters at Little Rock Air Force Base and about 450 jobs “won’t affect our mission at all for the 19th Airlift Wing,” Col. Brian Robinson, commander of both the wing and the base, said Tuesday afternoon.

These are the airmen and planes that have done most of the heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan and upon which the Pentagon most relies for in-theater transport.

Robinson’s tactical wing is slated to lose 28 legacy C-130s, but the Reserve unit and National Guard on the base will actually gain planes, according to the proposal, while the 314th Air Education and Training Wing, which trains pilots, crews and maintainers for the state-of-the-art C-130J, should remain at current strength.

Currently there are about 7,000 military and civilian employees on the base, he said.

Robinson said he didn’t know if the force reduction will be achieved through transfers or attrition, but he said he suspected it would be a combination of both.

Last year and in 2011, the proposal called for a reduction of 9,900 airmen service-wide, mostly members of the Guard and Reserves, but Congress and the governors objected, and the current numbers reflect a new proposal made in November.

The actual numbers are a little soft, because the Joint House Senate Budget Conference Committee’s final version of the bill establishes the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, which will be required to provide a comprehensive study on the structure of the Air Force to determine how it should be modified to fulfill mission requirements.

The commission must submit to the president and the congressional defense committees a detailed statement of findings and conclusions with recommendations by Feb. 1, 2014.

Robinson said the numbers are preliminary. Even though the Air Force has to reduce the number of airlift platforms “in the theater realm, the National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Obama earlier this month, would require an additional 32 airlifters, either C-130s or C-27s, without specifying where they would be assigned.”

The revised, compromise plan recently approved by Congress restored about 38 percent of the aircraft and 55 percent of the personnel reductions originally proposed for the Guard and Reserve, while allowing the Air Force to proceed with selected aircraft retirements and transfers necessary to meet budget targets, and to draw down active duty Air Force to about 329,000 personnel, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said recently.

While the 19th Airlift Wing is slated to lose 16 planes, the 189th National Guard Wing on the base and the 22nd Air Force Detachment — a reserve wing — are proposed to grow.

314th: NO CHANGE

“There’s really no change,” Robinson said, for the 314th Air Education and Training Wing.

He said the 19th Airlift Wing would “execute within the bounds of the resources we have, with the most ready and well-trained force on the mission.”

“We will manage closely the transitions that will occur in a timely, respectful, dignified manner,” Robinson said, to alleviate the negative effects on the lives of airmen and their families.

“The mission side will sort out when the final answer (on plane numbers) comes.

According to 189th Airlift Commander Col. Harold S. Eggensberger, “We’re well positioned for the future,” on the National Guard side.

“There are currently no plans to cut the 189th Airlift Wing. I’m very optimistic about the future of the 189th. We’re fully invested in training for Air Education Training Command.”

The wing has 10 C-130s. Two of them have improved avionics and three others, on loan from other bases, also have those new features, which are part of the avionics improvement program, which is now temporarily suspended to see if funds become available to upgrade dozens of other older C-130s.

The Air Force has moved to scuttle the existing Avionics Modernization Program and is looking for a new, more limited and less expensive version.

But a group of lawmakers, including Second District Rep. Tim Griffin have preserved the program for at least 90 days after a report on the cost-benefit analysis of quitting the AMP program.

The 22nd Air Force Detachment, a reserve group on base, has “10 permanently assigned aircraft, which is the total under our current plan, according to Col. Edsel “Archie” Frye Jr.

“Improving the quality of life for our members and helping them chase their dreams never gets old,” he said.

The 22nd Reserve wing joins the 189th National Guard wing in training pilots, crews and maintainers for the older model C-130s, which still constitute the majority of the C-130s in service, while the 314th Air Education and Training Wing specializes in training for the C-130Js.

During the height of activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, the defense budget topped out at about $700 billion in 2010 and the Obama Administration and the Pentagon intend to downsize the military budget over the next decade by at least $487 billion.

Cuts could be deeper if former Sen. Chuck Hagel, nominated by the president to be the next secretary of defense, is confirmed.

“The Pentagon needs to be pared down,” he told the Financial Times in 2011.

Garrick Feldman contributed to this report.