188th’s Next Mission on Track, Officials Say

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The Air Force said plans are still in place to keep the 188th Air Guard Unit in The River Valley.

This came after Senator Mark Pryor earlier this week raised questions about whether The Air Force is backing out of its promise keep the unit in Fort Smith.

The Air Force's top general assured Arkansas' congressional delegation plans for a new mission at the 188th in Fort Smith are on track. Congressman Steve Womack says he got that assurance from Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh at a congressional budget hearing Thursday (May 9).

"The 188th at Fort Smith, Arkansas is indeed still the plan and the appropriate steps are being taken to ensure that the proper budgets and what have you are in place," said Representative Womack. General Mark Welsh, Air Force Chief of Staff. “The plan is to start drawing down the A-10 unit at fort smith this Summer.”

The transition from A-10 ground support fighters to drones may take a little longer than planned.

Major Heath Allen said when the 188th switched from F-16 fighter jets to the A-10 , that transition took about three years.

"I have every confidence that we will be able to do the same thing in the MQ9 reaper transitioning from the A-10," said Allen.

Major Allen noted they have been preparing for the conversion since General Welsh's visit back in January.

"It's been you know pedal to the metal preparing for this conversion, just business as usual here, we feel like we're ahead of the schedule," said Major Allen.

Major Allen says this will be one of the most challenging transitions the 188th has faced. Members of the unit will have to be retrained and the unit will continue operating the A-10 until the summer of 2014, when the conversion to drones will become the focus