Fort Smith doesn’t want to become Blytheville. That’s what the fight over the 188th Fighter Wing boils down to.
Eaker Air Force Base, located just outside Blytheville, closed in 1992. Since then, Blytheville in particular and Mississippi County in general have shriveled on the vine. During the 40 years the base operated, the populations of those areas steadily grew. Now, 20 years after the base closed, Blytheville and Mississippi County have both lost about half their population and much of their commerce.
When talk of the 188th losing it’s A-10 “Warthog” mission comes up, that’s why.
In 2005 the Air National Guard unit had little choice but to give up its sleek “Top Gun” F-16s for the slow A-10s.
Now, make no mistake, the A-10 is a formidable weapon. Its 30mm cannon can level a city block in the time it takes Barney Fife to retrieve his single bullet. But, its air speed renders it vulnerable to surface-to-air missile attack, and that’s the weapon of choice for the enemy we’re fighting today.
So, the 188th has been on the target list of missions the Air Force can live without.
Of course, even in this era of congressional hysteria for spending cuts, the state’s delegation has been fighting tooth and nail to save the 188th.
“Go shutter someone else’s unit. Leave ours alone,” is the united cry.
That’s precisely the point.
There is only one sacred cow left when it comes to federal spending — defense.
Half of Congress is ready to chunk Social Security into history’s dustbin. The nation’s farmers should get ready for subsidy programs to change significantly. Even programs that pay for poor children to have at least one good meal a day — at school — are at risk.
But don’t think for a second that Congress will cut a dime from the Pentagon.
Quite to the contrary, Congress keeps adding to the defense budget, signing off on programs the military leaders don’t need or want.
How can such a frugal Congress suddenly turn into Messrs. Moneybags?
Look no further than Fort Smith.
The defense industry provides thousands and thousands of jobs, and those jobs, in turn, result in huge economic activity in hundreds of communities across the country. No one wants to see their thriving economy begin down the dusty, painful path that Blytheville started taking in the early 1990s.
And so it goes.
We’ll gut our social safety nets, and we’ll lower taxes, but come Hellfire missile or high water, we’ll continue to outspend the rest of the world combined on weaponry (if we need it or not).
Time was the Base Realignment and Closing Commission did serve as a powerful independent group that helped trim outdated and unneeded military facilities so that our nation could get the most bang for its defense buck. That time is long past. Now, congressional members simply ignore such recommendations and lobby for the votes, er, make that jobs back home.
In that environment, not only are we compromising other parts of our nation’s economy and well-being, but we are pouring resources into equipment and missions that are not helping us prepare for the battlefield of tomorrow.
Instead of protecting the status quo, our elected federal officials must protect our national defense by funding only those programs, equipment and personnel we need now and in coming years.
Don’t “save” outdated missions. Develop new ones for an enemy lurking in the shadows and waiting for an opportunity to strike.
If we follow that path, not only could we reinvigorate at least some of our military communities, but we could let the guys with the stars on their collar do the job we hired them for.
That way, Congress could focus on other matters. Wait …