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Budget amendment seeks to preserve 440th Airlift Wing

Fort Bragg's congresswoman has introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would bar the military from closing a Fort Bragg unit.

Rep. Renee Ellmers introduced the legislation Monday morning. Rep. David Price, who represents Fayetteville, and Reps. Richard Hudson and Mike McIntyre, who also represent the area around Fort Bragg, were co-sponsors, officials said.

The amendment, if approved, would prohibit the Department of Defense from using any money to "inactivate, relocate, or otherwise disrupt the mission, personnel, or aircraft of the 440th Airlift Wing."

The four congressmen, two Republicans and two Democrats, have criticized the Air Force's plans to shutter the wing since those plans were revealed earlier this year.

The amendment coincided with a visit to Fort Bragg and the 440th Airlift Wing by Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James and the head of the Air Force Reserve, Lt. Gen. James Jackson.

The two were expected to meet with local officials Monday afternoon.

The 440th Airlift Wing is a one-star Reserve unit that flies C-130H model cargo planes.

The planes are the only cargo planes permanently stationed at Fort Bragg, which bills itself as home of the airborne.

In a release, Ellmers said the amendment was the latest effort to save the 440th.

".My office has been working with military officials at Fort Bragg and the Defense Department to investigate how this decision was made, how it would impact the surrounding community of Fort Bragg, and what legislative alternatives could be provided to prevent this from happening," she said. "Based on these discussions and the leadership of my North Carolina colleagues here in the House, I decided to introduce this amendment today to this year's NDAA."

Ellmers said the proposed inactivation of the 440th was deeply concerning.

"These cuts would be detrimental for the Fayetteville community - eradicating jobs and damaging the livelihood of many hard working men and women who serve Fort Bragg and Pope Airfield," she said. "Not only do these cuts exceed what the law requires, they present unnecessary burdens on Fort Bragg and Pope Airfield troops, their families and our national security."

Last week, community leaders hoping to save the 440th warned that time may be running out.

In emails, leaders of the Save the 440th Airlift Wing Coalition warned that there were only three or four weeks left to drum up support to save the unit.

Ellmers' amendment also beat a deadline. It was filed just before a 10 a.m. deadline for amendments to the NDAA, the federal law that specifies the budget and expenditures for the Pentagon.

The 2015 Defense Appropriations Bill is seen by many to be the best chance to block the Air Force decision, and the language of the bill is being debated in Congress.

On Thursday, coalition leaders urged the group's members to seek support for the needed language, which would prevent using money to transfer or inactivate the 440th.

"We need to leverage ALL of the North Carolina delegation in support of these efforts," officials said in an email to local elected officials and community and business leaders.

Members of the coalition plan to send letters and copies of resolutions to North Carolina's congressional members and also are seeking help from veterans groups like the 82nd Airborne Division Association.

The Fayetteville Regional Chamber, Fayetteville City Council, Spring Lake Board of Aldermen, Harnett County Board of Commissioners, Cumberland County Board of Education and Cumberland County Board of Commissioners have each passed resolutions opposing the Air Force plans.

The amendment comes a month after the four congressmen submitted an appropriations request to a congressional committee that would "prohibit funding for the inactivation, relocation or any other measure that would disrupt the mission, personnel or aircraft of the 440th Airlift Wing."

The 440th Airlift Wing provides more than 20 percent of the airlifts for Fort Bragg paratroopers, officials have said.

In a response to a U.S. senator's questions, Air Force officials said the decision was driven by budget concerns and said they did not consult Fort Bragg leaders.

Air Force officials have said out-of-town air crews could handle the full load at Fort Bragg, much as they do at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and other military bases. But none of those posts have the sizable airborne community of Fort Bragg.

Fayetteville Observer, by: Drew Brooks 

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