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Arkansas delegation again seek 188th info

After being repeatedly ignored by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Arkansas’ Congressional Delegation is hoping to receive from the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff a reason behind changes planned for the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith.

Broad cuts in U.S. defense spending include the removal of the 20 A-10 Thunderbolt fighter plans from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith. The unit has almost 1,000 full- and part-time employees. The loss of the fighter mission is scheduled to be replaced with the unmanned Predator drone. The drones and intelligence specialists needed to analyze drone-driven data would not be based in Fort Smith.

On Tuesday (Nov. 27), U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; and U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Mike Ross and Steve Womack, sent a letter to Gen. Mark Welsh III, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.

“We write today with two purposes. First, we write in regard to a revised United States Air Force (USAF) Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget proposal to Congress as an alternative to the FY 2013 USAF budget request. Second, we write to invite you to visit the 188th Fighter Wing (FW) in Fort Smith, Arkansas,” noted the opening paragraph of the Congressional delegation letter.

The letter was also signed by Tom Cotton, who is the U.S. Rep.-elect for Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District.

Community officials and the Congressional delegation have argued that the unit, which is just a few minutes from a large firing range at Fort Chaffee, is the most cost-effective A-10 unit in the Air Force.

“The 188th FW is a textbook model in terms of operational readiness and efficiency, while performing their mission through the most cost-effective means possible,” noted the letter sent to Gen. Welsh.

Arkansas’ Congressional delegation has fought to save the 188th from the mission change. Part of that included a “Defending our Defenders listening session” on Aug. 21 in the Arkansas Best Corp. Performing Arts Center at the Fort Smith Convention Center.

The event welcomed U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., who serves as chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness. U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, in conjunction with U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., sponsored the event.

On Feb. 28 and April 18, Arkansas’ Congressional delegation sent letters to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asking for data and other analysis behind the decision to remove the A-10 fighter mission from the Fort Smith-based 188th Fighter Wing.

Panetta has not formally responded to either letter.

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“Since February of this year, we have asked for the strategic military analysis, readiness study, and budget analsysis that led to the decision to eliminate the A-10 flying mission at the 188th FW,” noted the letter sent to Gen. Welsh. “We have yet to receive the analysis and justification. We are, again, asking for this information.”

Link here to see a copy of the letter.

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