WASHINGTON — The Arkansas delegation has invited Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh to Fort Smith to see for himself the benefits of the 188th Fighter Wing.
The lawmakers are hoping the visit will convince the Air Force leader to back off a proposal to remove the A-10 mission from the Arkansas National Guard.
"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," they wrote. "We would be honored to host you to give you a complete picture of their capabilities, readiness level, and superior airspace and facilities."
The Air Force is considering a plan that would retain more A-10s within the Air Guard, allowing for bases in Michigan and Indiana to keep the mission. Fort Smith, however, would still be on the chopping block.
Congress flatly rejected an earlier Air Force proposal that would have slashed $487 billion in spending over the next decade because the cuts fell heavily on the Air National Guard.
Congress has blocked the Air Force from shifting any Air Guard missions under a temporary budget resolution that extends until March.
The Air Force, however, is hoping that by revising the plan the Senate would consider rescinding the freeze in a pending defense authorization bill.
Aside from the invitation, the letter from the delegation reinforced their opposition to the Air Force proposal that would impact nearly 1,000 full-time and part-time workers in Fort Smith.
"We are disappointed in the content of the USAF’s revised force structure proposal and the process by which this revised proposal was developed," they wrote.
In particular, they said they could not support a plan without reviewing the documentation justifying the proposed changes. The delegation has yet to receive documentation it requested in February when the Air Force first proposed eliminating the A-10 mission for the 188th Fighter Wing.
The letter was signed by: Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.; Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers; Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock; Mike Ross, D-Prescott; Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro; and Rep.-Elect Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday he hopes floor debate on the defense authorization bill can begin this week.
Boozman said Tuesday he would be lobbying hard to retain in the bill the prohibition against shifting Air Force National Guard missions.