FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 15, 2007
Capt. Chris Heathscott
State Public Affairs Officer
Arkansas National Guard
By Sgt. Rick Fahr
119th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
FORT SMITH – The A-10 “Warthog” aircraft may not be as flashy as the F-16 “Fighting Falcon, but members of the 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard are happy to have them.
The Airmen, elected officials and hundreds of area residents celebrated “Warthog Day” on April 14 as the 188th received its first A-10s and ended its F-16 mission. The aircraft change came about after the unit had been slated for closure by the federal commission charged with evaluating military facilities, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Col. Kevin Wear, commander of the 188th, said the A-10 is a perfect fit for the 188th, dubbed the “Flying Razorbacks.”
“It’s a match made in hog heaven,” he said to raucous applause.
The unit received four A-10s and will eventually have a total of 21 aircraft by the end of 2008. The A-10 Thunderbolt II’s capabilities – slow flight speed and lethal weaponry – make it a “close air support” aircraft that provides accurate and intense firepower in support of our ground troops.
Lt.Col. Tom Anderson, vice commander of the air wing, explained that the mission change is a bittersweet time for those who have flown the F-16.
“We still kid each other – it’s kind of like trading your Corvette for a Camaro. It’s still a nice airplane to fly, but it’s not the F-16,” he said. “The A-10 is evolving into a more modern airplane. It’s not just a big gun. … It makes us more viable in today’s war on terrorists.”
Airmen of the 188th have embraced their new mission, Anderson noted. “A couple of years ago, when the BRAC list came out, we were looking at flying nothing. The local community pulled together, and we campaigned hard. We wound up with the A-10,” he commented. “We weren’t shooting for it, but I think they saw the perfect fit that we have with our ranges and air space here, the proximity to Fort Chaffee, and it’s going to make us viable for a long time.”
Anderson said that pilots training to fly the A-10s will focus on communicating with ground troops in ways they haven’t previously. This is an imperative aspect of the "close-air-support" mission and the forward air control mission of the "Warthog".
“We have to shift gears to understand more how the people on the ground operate, the language they use,” he noted.
A number of elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and 3rd District Rep. John Boozman attended the event. The senator said the unit’s history with the F-16 served the nation well, and that its new mission with the A-10 will continue to play a critical role in the nation’s defense.
“The A-10 has a seven-barreled gun that can fire 3,900 of these a minute,” he said, holding up one of the GAU-8 Gatling rounds. “It is an amazing platform.”
Both Pryor and Boozman congratulated area residents on convincing federal officials to maintain and improve the 188th. The congressman said area leaders’ work to save the unit served as a model for other communities facing such military facility cuts.
Maj. Gen. William Wofford, adjutant general of Arkansas, and Brig. Gen. Riley Porter, commander of the Arkansas Air National Guard, attended the celebration, as did Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Don C. Morrow, former adjutant general of Arkansas.
Morrow pointed to Wear as a driving force behind the new mission.
“No one worked harder to bring these ‘Warthogs’ to Fort Smith,” the general said. “He was on the phone day and night. I know, because I was on the other end on many of those calls.”
Wofford noted that the 188th’s personnel – from the pilots in the aircraft to the maintenance personnel on the ground – make the unit a valuable military asset.
“This is now ‘Warthog’ country. Congratulations on your mission and a new era,” he said.
Fort Smith Mayor Ray Baker proclaimed April 14 “Warthog Day” in the city, presenting Wear with a plaque commemorating the occasion.
Several representatives from the manufacturer of the F-16, General Dynamics Corp., were on hand to present the 188th with an award commemorating the safety record of the 188th. During it's 18 years of flying the F-16, the 188th Fighter Wing had flown 44,000 hours without a major safety incident.
After the ceremony, those attending the event watched flying demonstrations involving F-16s and A-10s and had lunch, donated by several area companies.
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