Monday, May 08, 2017

TOP STORY >> Col. Brown say farewell to chamber

Leader editor

Col. Charles Brown, who this summer will end his two-year command of Little Rock Air Force Base, said farewell to the community during the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon Thursday at the Greens at North Hills.

Brown’s next assignment will be as senior assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium, according to Cheri Dragos-Pritchard, chief of media operations for the 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs office.

Known as SHAPE, it is the headquarters of Allied Command Operations, which controls all NATO operations.

The current Supreme Allied Commander is Army Gen. Curtis Michael Scaparrotti, who took the post a year ago. Previous Supreme Allied Commanders have included Gens. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Alexander Haig, Wesley Clark and James L. Jones.

Brown’s successor at LRAFB will be Col. Gerald Donohue, 86th Operations Group commander at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Dragos-Pritchard said.

Brown, who did not mention his next assignment at the Sherwood luncheon, spoke instead about the air base’s appreciation for the community’s support.

“What you contribute day in and day out to Little Rock Air Force Base allows us to get the effects that the nation needs,” he said.

Brown updated the community about the base’s humanitarian mission last month to Peru.

“The President of the United States was having a conversation with the president of Peru, who had called to ask for help. They had about 1.2 million people that were displaced due to the flooding down in Peru,” Brown said.

“President Trump promised him two C-130s from the United States. They called Little Rock Air Force Base.Within 16 hours, we had 25 members of all four groups on the base to include med techs, security forces, maintenance, translators, some Special Forces guys going down range, and we moved, in 11 days, 750,000 pounds of cargo for the people of Peru,” Brown told an applauding crowd.

He emphasized the role of airmen in the communities surrounding LRAFB.

“What I’m here to point out is they’re your neighbors. These are folks that live with you, they go to church with you, their kids are in school with your kids. We would not have been able to get out of town in the time, with people leaving their families behind not knowing when they were coming back, if they didn’t have the safety and support of the community,” Brown said, referring to the base’s quick deployment to Peru.

Brown also thanked the community for its help after a 36-hour power outage caused by last Sunday’s storm.

“We have 950 homes on base — 700 of our homes lost electricity for over 36 hours, from a lightning strike at 2:02 in the morning,” he said.

Brown had been traveling that night and had just returned home to learn the air base had been hit three times by lightning.

“What you don’t realize is that was only 700 homes of 70,000 homes within the state that lost power. (Entergy) had employees that were on our base working to get us power first when their own families didn’t have power. That’s the support that we look forward to get us back online to get us mission effective,” the colonel said.


State Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock), whose district includes Sherwood and Jacksonville, spoke about her 30-year effort to improve the state’s workforce education.

Calling it her “absolute passion,” the senator explained her work to develop training programs for students and prospective employees to increase the competitiveness of the state’s workforce as a way to increase wages and meet the employment needs of businesses.

“About a month ago, the governor signed a bill that decreased the income taxes for folks who make less than $21,000 a year. That amounts to 700,000 people here in the state of Arkansas. That’s a third of our population. We are not a high-income state,” she said.

Across the country, English said, the drive to reform approaches to education is gaining traction.

“Just encouraging people to go to college is not the thing to do. You can’t do that anymore. About 20 percent of our kids across the state go off to college. The other 80 percent walk out the door and don’t have a skill and don’t have a future,” English said.

She threw her support behind Sherwood’s June 13 millage election to continue — not increase — the current rate of the city’s property tax, which will finance a $60 million expansion and renovation of Sylvan Hills High School.

“What is going into that high school that’s going to give those kids an opportunity to leave with a skill, a certification, some college credits and some type of career pathway?” she asked.

“In Siloam Springs, the ag teacher up there got together with manufacturers in that area who had been crying for 30 years that they need industrial maintenance (technicians), and they could not find them. They’re not in the state at the degree that we need them. So he and the manufacturing companies and the education system in Siloam Springs got together, raised $2 million, built a 10,000-square-foot facility that belongs to the high school, and in that building is a whole industrial maintenance program” she said.

“When those kids leave high school, they have industry certifications that they can walk out the door with and go and make $30,000 to $60,000 to start. Those are the kinds of things we need to be doing around the state,” English said.

Tyson hired the Siloam Springs teacher who led the  workforce-development project to establish similar training facilities around the state.

The trucking and health-care industries and other job sectors need well-trained workers, she said. English wants schools to pursue curricula to meet those needs in hopes of increasing the average incomes of Arkansans.

She also reviewed the recent legislative session and a special three-day session.

“We’re asking the federal government for some waivers for our Arkansas Works program — that’s the Medicaid expansion.

“We also had some things to put together for the medical marijuana and then we also took the tobacco-settlement money out of one big account and put it into a long-term reserve,” she said.