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Region congressmen request committee block defense dollars from shuttering 440th Airlift Wing

An appropriations request submitted to a Congressional committee would block the use of defense dollars to shutter Fort Bragg's 440th Airlift Wing.

The request, submitted by North Carolina U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers, David Price, Richard Hudson and Mike McIntyre, would "prohibit funding for the inactivation, relocation or any other measure that would disrupt the mission, personnel or aircraft of the 440th Airlift Wing," according to Hudson's office.

The Air Force's 2015 budget request calls for the inactivation of the 440th Airlift Wing, which owns the only planes based on Fort Bragg.

The bipartisan request - Hudson and Ellmers are Republicans and Price and McIntyre are Democrats - was made Wednesday in a letter to Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen and Peter Visclosky, chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Defense.

"As you know, the 440th is a critical component in high-level training and timely deployment of both Airborne and Special Operations located at Ft. Bragg," the representatives wrote in the letter. "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-level training that some of our nation's best combat units rely on."

Last month, the four congressmen raised their concerns over the inactivation of the 440th Airlift Wing in a letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Ellmers said she is proud to be a part of the effort to block the 440th's closure.

"This request, which will be part of the FY15 Defense Appropriations bill, will ensure that the House is taking action to stop this process and providing responsible care for our military installations and the people who serve them," she said.

Ellmers said the proposal to shutter the unit is one that caused immediate concern.

"Not only do these proposed cuts exceed what the law requires, they present unnecessary burdens on Fort Bragg and Pope Airfield troops, their families and our national security," Ellmers said. "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 440th's C-130H cargo planes provide more than 20percent 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.

"At a time of global unrest, our nation faces a serious challenge in maintaining our ability to create a strong system for defense both at home and abroad," Hudson said in a statement. "The 440th Airlift Wing is a crucial component to preserving the readiness of our military, providing high-level training and guaranteeing timely deployment of both Airborne and Special Operations at Fort Bragg."

He said the unit has a direct impact on the local economy and that "it provides some of our nation's best warfighters with the necessary expertise to do their jobs as successfully as possible."

"We must work to solve our fiscal crisis without sacrificing the safety of our nation or the great men and women who fight to defend it," he said.

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, Ga., Fort Campbell, Ky., and other military bases. But none of those posts have the sizable airborne community of Fort Bragg.

In their letter, the representatives said they believed a dependence on outside crews would "lower the quality of training, while ultimately costing taxpayers more money and valuable resources."

If approved, a single sentence would be added to the Fiscal Year 2015 Defense Appropriations bill.

The sentence would read: "None of these funds shall be used to inactivate, relocate, or otherwise disrupt the mission, personnel, or aircraft of the 440th Airlift Wing."

Fayetteville Observer, By: Drew Brooks

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