TAMPA, Fla. – While safe for now, The Arkansas National Guard’s 188th Fighter Wing based in Fort Smith still faces an uncertain future, a key congressman told Arkansas delegates Thursday at the Republican National Convention.
The House and Senate have approved legislation that would protect the Air National Guard from cuts called for in the budget President Barack Obama proposed for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.
While the two chambers have yet to pass a final bill, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said he is confident that will occur. But, the chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee is less certain that Congress can avoid larger cuts set to automatically take place in January.
The Budget Control Act of 2011, which brought last year’s debt-ceiling crisis to an end, contained a trigger for $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts to reduce the deficit over the next decade. The Department of Defense would have to absorb $492 billion or 42.6 percent of the "sequestration" cuts.
"We have language to protect the 188th if we can get it out of Congress. So, it appears safe for at least a year. But if sequestration comes in, then all that is off the table," Forbes said.
Forbes held a field hearing in Fort Smith earlier this month where hundreds of residents and dozens of elected leaders defended the 188th Fighter Wing against the Pentagon’s proposal to remove its A-10 mission.
The 2013 Air Force budget, which was announced in February, included a $770 million reduction to the Air Guard and elimination of about 5,100 Guard positions. The proposal would replace the A-10 mission at Fort Smith with a drone aircraft mission. It also would end a C-130 aviation modernization program at Little Rock Air Force Base.
Forbes spoke briefly to Arkansas delegates at a breakfast meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn where they are staying.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., asked him to speak. The two have been friends since serving together in the House. They sat down, with their wives, for breakfast after the meeting.
Forbes had been staying at another hotel with the Virginia delegation, 32 miles from the Tampa Bay Times Forum where the convention is being held. He and his wife checked into the Hilton Garden Inn on Wednesday. The hotel in the Ybor District is just two miles from the convention.
As to his field hearing, Forbes said he was impressed by the outpouring of community support and the unity of the state’s political leaders.
"It is really the best I’ve seen in the country, and I’ve been to a lot of places," Forbes said.
He said he would fight to keep the A-10 mission in Fort Smith.