Although we have a special interest in the fortunes of the 188th Fighter Wing, the National Guard in Arkansas is more than just the Air Guard.
The National Guard holds a unique, multifaceted position in the country's military structure. Guard units may be used by a state's governor for state purposes. They may be used by the governor with presidential approval for shared state and federal purposes. They may be used by the president for federal purposes. They serve homeland security, national defense and civil needs missions. They are often among the first responders in the event of natural disasters and other needs.
In just the last few months, we have seen the varied roles guardsmen can fill.
When the main well pump for Fallsville, in Newton County, 40 miles north of Clarksville, failed on June 27, local officials sought county and state help. The 217th Maintenance Battalion of the 142nd Fires Brigade dispatched a 5,000-gallon tanker for community use. When they learned elderly residents couldn't get to the tanker, guardsmen, including Sgt. Thomas Hesson, a logistics employee from the Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center, worked with residents to get up to 30,000 gallons of water a day into the municipal system. Now residents can get water at their homes and the system's pipes remain pressurized.
Last week, 20 Army aviators with the Arkansas National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 238th Air Ambulance began training for deployment to Kosovo for a medical support mission.
In early July, the Arkansas National Guard supplied Blackhawk helicopters with 660-gallon buckets to help the state Forestry Commission fight wildfires.
At the end of June, 100 soldiers with the 1039th Engineer Company began training for a deployment to Afghanistan where they will have a double mission of route clearance and training Afghan National Army units.
In May, members of the 188th Civil Engineers Squadron deployed to Guatemala on a joint foreign military, humanitarian and civic assistance mission, where they worked on the expansion of a women's health clinic.
And, of course, in March, 75 members of the 188th Maintenance Group left Fort Smith for Afghanistan ahead of the July 2 deployment of nearly 300 airmen and their A-10 Thunderbolts. The Guard says the Warthogs maintain slow speeds, exhibit high maneuverability at low altitudes and provide overwhelming fire power. No wonder the 188th and its planes are welcomed by ground troops.
In congressional testimony Thursday, the Council of Governors called out Air Force budget makers who did not consult with governors before slashing the budgets of National Guard units across the country.
The proposed 2013 Air Force budget would have cut $770 million from the Air Guard and stripped the 188th Fighter Wing of its valuable A-10s.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, challenged the Pentagon to make public its process in deciding to make those cuts, according to a report in Friday's edition.
Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, a member of the subcommittee, spoke for the Arkansas delegation and for all of us when he expressed frustration at the illogic of removing the A-10s from Fort Smith, which has an ideal location thanks to the nearby bombing range and the joint forces training possibilities at Fort Chaffee.
"All of us in the delegation are trying to figure out the logic of the decision. We want facts and analysis we can read. But we have nothing that the Air Force can point to to justify some of these positions," Griffin said.
The National Guard is many things, and guard units have provided invaluable service in Iraq and Afghanistan while continuing to serve missions at home and in other corners of the world.
It is essential that before Guard budgets are cut, the Council of Governors be heard.
It also is essential that the budget-making process be transparent at least to congressional oversight. The Guard is too important to be sacrificed to across-the-board cuts and political expedience.