Tuesday, March 11, 2014

EDITORIAL >> More growth for Reserves

We told you Saturday that President Obama’s 2015 budget calls for the transfer of 10 C-130Js to the rapidly growing reserve unit at Little Rock Air Force Base, as well as several older C-130s that could join the Reserves and Air National Guard units, along with hundreds of additional personnel.

Gen. Paul J. Selva, commander of Air Mobility Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that the move to LRAFB would save the Air Force $100 million over the next five years.

The new planes would raise the number of C-130s at Little Rock to 95, with 41 of them C-130Js and the rest the older C-130H models. There’s plenty of room for more on one of the busiest flightlines in the region.

The C-130Js will transfer from Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi and head to the 22nd Air Force, Detachment 1 Reserve unit at the Jacksonville base under the command of Col. Archie Frye, who has built his organization from scratch since 2011. The unit will evolve into the 913th Airlift Group. Their slogan is “Stationed locally — serving globally.”

We’ve seen the unit grow rapidly in the last couple of years and are glad it will take on an additional role at the air base. Plans call for a $2 million headquarters building. The command’s annual budget is $16 million.

The Reserve unit has worked closely with Col. Steve Eggensberger, commander of the 189th Airlift Wing, and Col. Scott Brewer, commander of the 314 the Airlift Wing. The addition of the new C-130Js and hundreds of airmen will only enhance the mission at the base, which is also home to the combat-ready 19th Airlift Wing.

Congress must first approve the proposed military budget. States that will lose planes will do everything to block the move, especially Mississippi’s congressional delegation, which secured the C-130Js when former Sen. Trent Lott was majority leader. Lott told us years ago he would get everything for his state he could put his hands on. Fair enough, but he’s been long retired, and those 10 C-130Js were supposed to go to Pope Field at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Mississippi’s and North Carolina’s losses are our gain. Rumors are circulating that Pope could lose its airlift wing. The Air Force might as well bring the wing here. You couldn’t find a better home for the C-130s and their airmen than Little Rock Air Force Base.

Top generals like Paul Selva tell us we’re the best military community in the nation. That means we’ll gladly accept more planes and personnel and make them feel welcome. The skies are always friendly and the people always neighborly.

It helps that Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) sits on the Defense Appropriations Committee, which should approve the latest proposals without delay. “Ten aircraft are enough for a squadron,” Pryor told us last week. “This is breaking news.”

Pryor said the moves are part of the Defense Department’s effort at increasing efficiency, reconfiguring and downsizing this country’s armed forces.

“Little Rock is a center of excellence and, if it holds with 10 additional C-130Js, that’s a very good thing,” Pryor said. “My sense is that someone at the Pentagon looked and said the most efficient thing is to base those planes at Little Rock.”

Pryor is right: Consolidation at Little Rock Air Force Base will save the military hundreds of millions of dollars and make our military better prepared. After 60 years, LRAFB could see the dawn of a new era.