By Peter Urban
Arkansans sent more than 2,000 letters today to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urging him to spare the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith.
The Arkansas congressional delegation planned to hand deliver the letters to the Pentagon as soon as possible in their ongoing effort to keep the A-10 mission with the 188th Fighter Wing.
In its 2013 budget request, the Air Force has proposed replacing the A-10 mission with one that would operate Predator/Reaper drones.
The 188th Fighter Wing Steering Committee set up a website  in February urging community members to write a letter to Panetta in support of the Flying Razorbacks.
More than 2,000 letters were collected, including several hundred written by area school children. The letters were recently given to the delegation for delivery to the Pentagon.
"All of the letters were individually written. There are no canned letters," said Kevin Wear, chairman of the 188th Fighter Wing Steering Committee.
The Arkansas congressional delegation also sent a joint letter to Panetta today to echo the Fort Smith concerns.
"The community and Arkansas Congressional Delegation strongly believe the removing fighter from Fort Smith, Arkansas, is not fiscally sound and will significantly affect joint training," the delegation wrote.
In the letter, the delegation questioned whether the Air Force had taken into consideration the benefits that the 188th Fighter Wing provides in terms of unit savings and joint military training capabilities.
The lawmakers also again requested that the Air Force and Department of Defense provide them with the cost analysis used in developing the budget proposal.
"Congress must have access to the data and information used by the Department to formulate recommendations and proposals," they wrote.
U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Mike Ross, D-Prescott, all signed the letter.