Weekly Columns

Arkansas is continuing to strengthen its role in support of our national security. Whether we’re referring to the 188th Wing at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith or Little Rock Air Force Base (LRAFB), it’s clear that our state is a key component to our country’s security and readiness strategy.

We are in an enviable position thanks in part to smart, forward-thinking decisions by leaders in Arkansas. That was clear in the assessment of Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson when she visited the state recently. 

During her time in Arkansas, Secretary Wilson visited a combination of private sector businesses, state leaders, public institutions and military installations to get a sense for what we are doing to support the Air Force’s mission as well as how our state is educating and preparing tomorrow’s leaders.

After visiting with members of the 188th Wing, the secretary confirmed what we know to be true about the changing mission focus at Ebbing Air National Guard Base. She remarked that “the 188th is a great example of a community and a mission that embraced the future. This Guard unit is leading the way.”

Coming from the Air Force's top civilian leader, that praise is a good indication that the decision to adjust the 188th’s mission to focus on unmanned flying operations was the right one. It’s paying dividends now and I’m confident it will in the future too.

LRAFB’s mission is helping to make certain the Air Force is able to maintain superiority in the skies, ensuring our service members can get where they need to go and have all the equipment and supplies they need no matter how austere the environment. In addition to that, the base – known as the “home of the C-130” – is also at the forefront of the cyber domain mission, an emerging battlefield that is only becoming more relevant.

As a co-chair of the Senate Air Force Caucus, I was proud to help lead the fight for a cybersecurity mission at LRAFB that resulted in the Air National Guard Cyber Skills Validation Course which is training airmen to prevent attacks on Department of Defense networks. The unit is also poised to support cybersecurity missions, including protection of critical infrastructure.

The cyber mission at Little Rock has outstanding support from the surrounding community, which is building complementary capabilities and helping to develop a pipeline of much-needed cybersecurity experts.  The University of Central Arkansas is one such example.

In 2017, UCA received a grant from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to help launch its cyber range to educate students on identifying and combatting potential cyberattacks. Secretary Wilson visited with UCA students and administrators to learn more about the program and how its partnership with the Center for Cyber Futures is advancing our understanding and capabilities in this arena.

I’m proud to support Arkansans and our state’s military installations – and the many airmen and civil servants who work tirelessly to keep our country safe – as they work to enhance our ability to defend the U.S. from current and future threats. I appreciate Secretary Wilson’s time and attention in visiting Arkansas to see this work firsthand. I believe she was well served by her visit and recognizes how much Arkansas is contributing to our national security.

I look forward to working with her to explore other ways Arkansas can partner together to deliver more capability for the Air Force.