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Leaders discuss AF deployments, personnel cuts, border patrol

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- More than 200 retired Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines gathered Dec. 8 at the consolidated club here to get a first hand update on today's military.

The retirees received updates on the Arkansas Army National Guard from Maj. Gen. Ron Chastain, Ark. adjutant general, the Air National Guard by Col. Dwight Balch, 189th Airlift Wing commander, and the active-duty Air Force from Brig. Gen. Kip Self, 314th Airlift Wing commander.

Retirees enjoy being kept "in the loop" of today's military happenings, according to John Heffernan, director of retiree activities here. It's an opportunity for them to see the strain on the military in an environment of shrinking resources and manpower.

"The retirees were active-duty once too," the 30-year Army veteran said. "They need to see the differences between today and their time."

The Guard

Differences couldn't be more different today than years ago in the Guard, said General Chastain.

"The Air National Guard is restructuring," said the Army two-star general. "We're going through tremendous change; downsizing 3,500 positions nationwide and about 247 full-time positions. However, we're working to distribute the pain throughout the country."

Final details on the exact draw-down of Air National Guard positions will be determined in about a week at a national meeting of senior Guard leaders.

The general also discussed the change in state airpower missions.

The 188th Fighter Wing in Ft. Smith will transition from 15 F-16 Fighting Falcons to 18 A-10 Warthogs, the general said. And locally, the 189th Airlift Wing, located on Little Rock AFB, will trade in their eight older 1960s-era C-130E models and upgrade to nine of the newer H models.

The general also discussed the missions the Guard is fulfilling along the Mexican border noting that the Ark. Air National Guard has about 32 Airmen deployed to New Mexico and Arizona.

"Our Airmen are keeping illegal immigrants and drugs out of the United States," said General Chastain. "Our entry identification teams spot immigrants and report them to the Border Patrol. We're not making arrests."

A resounding theme was that Guard Airmen are performing non-traditional Guard roles.

"The term 'weekend warrior' no longer applies," said Col. Balch. "We're surrounded by great leaders and great servants that have done a wonderful job at every task."

Active Duty

The final speaker was General Self who opened up his speech with the video, "How we fight." The video was produced to show Airmen's non-traditional roles in modern warfare. "Battlefield Airmen," as they're called in the video, are Airmen assigned to Army units or put in harm's way on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa and "don't wear wings," said General Self noting that Airmen fighting in the Global War on Terror may not be aircrew.

"We're in the process of pushing out 600 Airmen to Iraq and Afghanistan--into harm's way," General Self said. "This is a total force effort; our Airmen are fighting this effort today as combatants on the ground."

General Self also explained how aircrews are being deployed from the 463rd Airlift Group and that their Airmen are in a "one-to-one" dwell, meaning they rotate into the desert for six months, then rotate home for six, then rotate back again. "They're deployed half their lives in the desert."

General Self also stated Little Rock Airmen are taking about 400 convoys off the road a week. "They're saving the lives of our Soldiers," said General Self.

The commander also discussed future deployments of support personnel form the base.

"The war is our priority," he said. "You can expect some longer lines and possible some longer waits in areas like Pass and ID, the clinic, the Fitness Center and other Services facilities. But please bear with us."

These waits and changes may become more common.

"We're also leveraging manpower for technology," General Self said. "We've got a high rate of deployment... and we're cutting about 40,000 Airmen from the active duty Air Force over the coming years."

General Self thanked the retirees for their service and challenged them not to stop supporting the men and women in uniform.

"You contribute more than 12,000 volunteer hours a year; that's amazing," he said. You're great warriors out of uniform and you should never give up and continue to stay informed about what's going on."

"You've made the difference and I appreciate you."

The video "How we fight" streams on-line at www.af.mil. Click the link "The Interdependent Fight."
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