National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 -- Conference Report

Floor Speech

By:  Mark Pryor
Date: Dec. 21, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I will try to keep my remarks to about 5 minutes, although I would first like to thank Senators Levin and McCain for their leadership on this legislation. They truly set the tone, and they have been good role models for the entire Senate on how legislation should be conducted. So I wish to thank both of them. I think many of my colleagues feel the very same way; that we appreciate how they have handled the national defense authorization bill. It has been a massive undertaking and sometimes, as we know, we have a lot of gridlock around here, but because of the way they have handled it, they have been able to get this bill to this point.

I am not going to object to this bill at all. At one point I thought about it because I am so upset--in fact, my staff has even said livid, and I have been livid--about how one item has been handled by the Air Force; that is, as we all know, about 10 months ago the Air Force came out with a proposed force restructure and that included taking an A-10 unit away from the Arkansas National Guard that is based in Fort Smith, AR.

Understandably, when something such as that happens, we have questions. So, 10 months ago, I started asking: Why are you doing this? Give me your analysis. Tell me how much money you are going to save. Are you aware you have Fort Chaffee right off the end of the runway--and I will talk about this in just a minute. Are you aware that this just went through BRAC, that they had F-16s there and now they have A-10s, and the BRAC commission has gone through this process and they said this is the best place; we can have A-10s right here in Fort Smith, AR.

So we basically got stonewalled. They wouldn't tell us any of their analysis. They wouldn't tell us how much it is costing or saving. They basically stonewalled not just my office but the whole Congress, as far as I know. I have talked to people all over this place on the Senate side and the House side. They never got any numbers. Finally, just in the last few weeks, in talking to members of the Air Force who have stars on their shoulders, they have told me there was no business analysis. There was no base-by-base analysis. Basically, what this boils down to is we need to make some cuts and more or less your number came up, and they go back to the one flying mission per State. We can talk about that more if we want to.

But the problem is we are in a budget environment where we are having downward pressure on military spending, and we know that. We are going to have to make military cuts not just this year but in the outyears. There is no doubt about it. The U.S. Air Force should always count the cost. They should always make a determination on how much these things cost and how much they save.

They did not do that here.

They should also know we are going to have a smaller force in the future. So as we wean out some units--and it is going to happen; it is going to be painful; people are not going to like it--you should keep the best units you have, the strongest units you have. And the 188th at Fort Smith, AR, is the best unit in the system. I say that objectively because there are numbers to back that up. It is the cheapest to operate. Even though it went through the transition from F-16s to A-10s just a few years ago, they have already deployed twice. They have deployed twice. One reason they got extended in a deployment was because another A-10 unit was not ready.

What this does is it puts those pilots--those men and women in uniform, who just got back from Afghanistan-- they get off the plane, they are being hugged by their spouses and their children and their communities, and basically the Air Force is giving them a pink slip.

The ultimate slap in the face happened this week when the National Guard Bureau had the audacity to contact the 188th Flying Wing at Fort Smith and say: Hey, by the way, could you deploy one more time? There is another unit that is not ready. Can you deploy one more time? It is astonishing that the Air Force would do this.

We had a commission in there. The commission did not survive. I have talked about that with several of my colleagues who were on the conference. Even though this wing has had more nautical miles of military training than any other unit in the Air National Guard, even though it is closer in proximity to its flying range, its bombing range than any other unit--it is the best setup in all of North America to have the 188th where it is located at Fort Smith and at Fort Chaffee, which is basically the Army National Guard's national training center right there--they love to train with A-10s; we are talking about close air support vehicles here--I do not think the Air Force took that into consideration for 1 minute. I think they made an arbitrary decision here. I do not think it is in our national interests. I do not think it is in the interests of our national security. I am putting people on notice that this fight is not over. I understand about the down pressure. I get all that stuff. But this fight is not over. I am not going to object to this bill today. I am going to vote for its adoption.

Again, I want to thank the chairman and the ranking member for their great leadership.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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