Tuesday, March 10, 2015

TOP STORY >> Hill warns on cuts at air base

Leader senior staff writer

Second District Rep. French Hill (R-Little Rock) favors sequestration spending caps for the federal budget, but thinks the military needs more spending flexibility within its allotment instead of across-the-board cuts, he said Monday following a visit to Little Rock Air Force Base.

Hill, speaking in a drizzle under the static C-130 display at the base’s front gate, had just finished a 90-minute tour of the premiere C-130 base in the world and a meeting with its commander, Col. Patrick Rhatigan.

“I believe the Congress should have the ability to spend money more appropriately, including the military,” he said.

Hill said the $108 million replacement of the base’s 12,000-foot runway plus its landing strip were signs of investment that showed that Congress and the Pentagon recognized the base’s importance.

“I don’t mind the cap overall that was put in place by sequestration, but I believe it is not being prioritized for our military,” said Hill, a former banker. “I think the Congress, through the armed services committees and the Pentagon ought to work to better use the funds that are being allocated for national defense.”

“That’s the big issue facing us right now,’ he said.

“I would support the sequestration cap, but we would be better off and have more confidence in our military planning if we had flexibility within the military component.”

He praised the base for setting the curve when it comes to public-private cooperation, saying the local civic sector, the base and the public partnerships deserve credit. Hill said those partnerships include training, a library, electricity, tooling and future water and sewer connections.

“They save hard-earned taxpayer money and (increase) efficiency,” Hill said.

“I saw the (Joint Education) Center for the first time,” he said, calling it “an impressive facility.”

Jacksonville residents taxed themselves to raise $5 million toward the center, with the Defense Department putting in $10 million.

He acknowledged the base’s importance in military airlift.

“The biggest challenge for airlift is moving from the C-130H model to the (state-of-the-art) C-130J model, and all the training and maintenance that goes along with it,” Hill said. “This is the future of the mobility command.”

He demonstrated a basic understanding of the difference between the two airframes.

He said he didn’t know how Congress would address the need to update the H-model planes in avionics, maintenance and navigation, which must be done by 2020.

“I’m convinced that Little Rock Air Force Base is the center of excellence for C-130 training. The Pentagon recognizes that and the Congress recognizes and I’m going to work hard to make sure that’s the case,” the congressman said.


Hill went to Selma, Ala., on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march.

“It was memorable to stand on the notorious Edmund Pettus Bridge five decades later with march leader and my colleague, Rep. John Lewis. I admire his courage and tenacity.”

Hill said he was honored to be there with a very large—over 90—delegation of the congress and with Presidents Obama and Bush.