“News of our demise is greatly exaggerated”

The 188th Fighter Wing invited 1000 or so of its closest civilian friends out to Ebbing Air Field in Fort Smith yesterday to say goodbye to an old friend — the F-16 — and to welcome its new mission — A-10 Thunderbolts.

Affectionately known as “Warthogs” because, well, unless you’re a soldier on the ground, the aircraft is kinda ugly. Also, the Warthog roots on the ground and when it snorts, here’s what happens.

Yesterday as the final F-16s buzzed the crowd, I focused on the thunder in my chest. It’ll be the last time I experience that familiar sensation for a long time and I want to remember it. Hearing those rockets rumble off the ramp on Saturday mornings as I savored a morning cup of coffee brought me great delight, especially after the summer we spent successfully battling the Pentagon in its Base Realignment & Closure recommendation to strip the 188th of its flying mission.

Chairman Anthony Principi said on the night following the final BRAC Commission vote awarding A-10 Warthogs to the 188th Fighter Wing, “Now Fort Smith is clearly a case where they [Pentagon] didn’t do their homework.” That’s the night I walked into my house late and told the month old stray kitten she could stay, and that her name is Principi.

The pride I felt yesterday was that we did the right thing for our nation when we fought to save the Arkansas Air Guard’s mission. Our nation is safer when aircraft are in the hands of these capable and experienced women at the 188th Fighter Wing.

Parker Pennings landed the 188th’s first Warthog at Fort Smith. He taxied up to the ramp in front of the hangar and the nose art is absolutely incredible. It is, indeed, a Flying Razorback.

My friend Tom Anderson flew the fini flight for the F-16. He, too, taxied up to the ramp and was greeted by his sons who turned the fire hose on him, but nobody was happier than Col. Kevin Wear, who greeted his BRAC wing-man with a shower of champagne and a head-lock hug.

Victory is sweet.

This morning I found several youtube videos of A-10s in action. It brought home to me the seriousness of the aircraft’s destructive capability. The 188th is preparing for an anticipated 2009 deployment with the new weapons platform.

The Warthogs are a ground platoon’s best friend. A-10 pilots knock out the tanks and artillery and help ground troops survive another day — putting sons and fathers and daughters and mothers another day closer to being home safe with their loved ones.

Our nation is weary of combat casualties. Our nation is divided on why we’re fighting in Iraq. We must, however, continue to support the men and women who deploy. We must insist that our troops in harms way have the very best equipment and the very best personnel attached to that equipment.

The men and women of the 188th — from security, to civil engineering, and from maintenance crews to pilots — are prepared to answer the call.

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