JACKSONVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) - Threats are looming in places like North Korea and Afghanistan, and military families in Central Arkansas are well aware of the ongoing operations.
They’re also aware of the tight budgets both at home and on base.
Into this environment comes a new commander at the Little Rock Air Force base in Jacksonville.
Colonel Gerald Donohue took on the job last month and wanted to introduce himself to the community and explain where the base is headed in this era of rising threats and possibly bigger budgets.
“I am impressed with how our airmen our doing and how our installation is doing,” Donohue said.
He has 25 years of flying experience with the Air Force on the way toward landing the top spot in charge of the 19th Air Lift Wing. The base is home to more than 50 workhorse C-130 transport planes, and Donohue can fly any one of them if he has to.
“Right now, we continue to be what I like to consider the center of the C-130 world and I don't see that changing anytime soon,” he said during a recent “media day.”
Since the military always needs to get stuff from here to there, the men and women working in Jacksonville are busy all over the world.
“We have folks in Germany and in Africa right now,” he said. “In just about a week or so [we are] headed out to the Middle East.”
The new colonel is realizing quickly that when you become a commander at a unit like this, you not only have your military obligations, you become the mayor of a not-so-small town.
“Now I'm responsible for the entirety of the installation,” the colonel said referring to his most recent command at Ramstein A.F.B. in Germany where he focused on a particular air wing on foreign soil. A stateside base commander job is different.
“Now our focus has just shifted from very operational employment of aircraft to actually care and feeding of the entirety of what is essentially a small city,” he said.
Like a small city mayor, the colonel has his eyes on community development. He said with a little help from Washington, the economic impact of the air base can grow.
“We have needs whether it be to help make the installation more sustainable or improving dormitories or improving just our normal facilities, there are needs that need to get met,” he said. Those construction jobs, if they materialize, could eventually be open to local contractors – meaning possible jobs in Jacksonville. The base is already the seventh-largest employer in the entire state.
And if promised spending from Washington emerges from Congress and the Trump Administration, Col. Donohue as a pilot trainer, would push that money back into training.
“Readiness is our principal concern,” he said. “For a long time now we’ve been engaged so broadly and so continuously, that readiness across the Air Force has taken a dip.”
The colonel also said that a number of planes and personnel are “postured” to head to Texas to help with hurricane relief efforts.