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N.C. congressmen question DoD's plans for 440th Airlift Wing at Fort Bragg

Four congressmen from North Carolina have sent a letter to the Department of Defense raising concerns over the possible shuttering of a Fort Bragg unit.

Reps. Renee Ellmers, Richard Hudson, David Price and Mike McIntyre say they oppose the deactivation of the 440th Airlift Wing, which owns all of the Air Force planes at Fort Bragg's Pope Field. They sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The 440th is a critical component in high-level training and timely deployment of both Airborne and Special Operations located at Fort Bragg," they wrote. "Beyond the direct impact of over 1,200 service members and their families directly associated with the unit, our fear is that the deactivation of this unit will adversely affect the high quality training that some of our nation's best combat units rely on."

Plans for the deactivation of the 440th Airlift Wing were first reported last week by The Fayetteville Observer.

As the Department of Defense revealed its fiscal 2015 budget request, members of Congress were briefed on the potential loss of the 440th as part of an Air Force effort to reduce the aging C-130H fleet in favor of the modern C-130J.

The 440th Airlift Wing had been set to receive the C-130J model planes as early as last fall, but those plans were delayed and now appear to have been abandoned.

In response, several North Carolina lawmakers including Sens. Kay Hagan and Richard Burr have spoken out against the deactivation.

In Monday's letter, the four congressmen said they understood that the Air Force and the rest of the military face significant budget pressure that "requires difficult decisions to be made."

Co-locating Fort Bragg's Army units with Air Force planes provides savings, the letter said, and using off-site planes could lower the quality of training while ultimately costing taxpayers more.

"Having the 440th Airlift Wing on post has proven to be a critical asset to the airborne and special operation missions it supports," according to the letter. "We have serious concerns, should the 440th be deactivated, that units regularly conducting training and operations with local aircraft and crews will be forced to rely on out-of-state units to fly to Fort Bragg in order to complete routine missions and training exercises.

"This could weaken the strong working relationship between the Air Force and the Army, which has been built over the last seven years at Fort Bragg and Pope Field."

Officials have estimated that the 440th Airlift Wing provides more than 20 percent of all airlifts on Fort Bragg. It also has a nearly $78 million economic impact on the area.

In a statement, Ellmers said the proposed cuts do not reflect a final agreement but are concerning for the Fayetteville community and Fort Bragg personnel.

"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," said Ellmers, a Republican from Dunn. "It is also imperative that commanders and soldiers continue to have access to the flexible and quality training that this joint mission has provided over the past seven years."

The congressmen ask military leadership to respond in writing to questions on the possible deactivation.

Those questions deal with effects on training, what would happen to 440th Airlift Wing airmen and whether those airmen would receive financial assistance.

The letter asks how the Department of Defense would replace the air support provided by the 440th Airlift Wing and for the specific benefits the military would see in deactivating the unit.

 

Fayetteville Observer, By: Drew Brooks

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