Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman want to save the 188th Fighter Wing.
The Arkansas Air National Guard unit stationed at the Fort Smith Air National Guard Station faces a possible cut under the proposed National Defense Authorization Act. Soon, both Arkansas senators will have a chance to back up their support by opposing President Obama’s nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
"Despite repeated requests, the Air Force still hasn’t provided us with the analysis behind their proposal to eliminate the 188th’s A-10 mission," Sen. Pryor said in joint bipartisan statement with Sen. Boozman. "The Air Force needs to complete a thorough and objective analysis before any changes are made. It’s in best interest of our national security, and our men and women in uniform."
"These provisions in the defense authorization bill are very important because the Air Force used no comparative cost analysis to arrive at the decision to change the 188th’s mission," Boozman said. "We all agree that wasteful spending needs to be eliminated, but arbitrary cuts to our national defense are very dangerous. The Department of Defense owes it to the country to provide the reason for its recommendations. The country needs smart cuts, especially when it comes to our national defense, not massive random cuts that put our national security at risk."
While both senators have focused specifically on the A-10 mission of the 188th, they also should be concerned with the President Obama’s desire to cut back on the size of our country’s military capabilities, a desire transparent by his nomination of Chuck Hagel as the Secretary of Defense. Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, has indicated he fully backs Obama in the desire to pare down what he considers a "bloated" Pentagon.
"Defense Department, I think, in many ways, has been bloated. So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically, in a long, long time," said Hagel in an interview with UK’s The Financial Times back in 2011.
It is not clear exactly where Hagel would seek to pare down our national defense but such a sentiment should not give much comfort to those wanting to see ccontinued missions of the 188th in Fort Smith or the 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base.
Both senators have withheld judgment on the confirmation of Hagel until after the Senate hearings.
"All cabinet nominees deserve fair consideration and a high threshold of review, and Sen. Hagel is no different. As the Senate confirmation process moves forward, we need to thoroughly analyze his suitability, qualifications and temperament for this position," said Pryor.
Boozman agreed, saying he was "looking forward to a fair confirmation process and learning more about Sen. Hagel’s views and exploring if he is the best person to lead the Department of Defense."
Boozman has expressed some concerns about Hagel in interviews. For example, he told KASU, "He’s said some pretty outrageous statements at times on a variety of different issues. So I think there’s going to be a lot of discussion and I don’t really know how it’s going to fall out, but because of that I have some real concerns with his nomination."
The votes will be worth watching. Pryor, a Democrat, will have to split from most his party to oppose the president’s nomination.
If both truly care about keeping the military bases open in Arkansas, opposing the confirmation of someone who apparently wants to close them down seems like a no brainer.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.