FAYETTEVILLE, NC — Community leaders hoping to save the 440th Airlift Wing may be running out of time.
Members of the Save the 440th Airlift Wing Coalition said leaders have three or four weeks to drum up support to save the unit, which was slated to be shuttered by an Air Force budget plan unveiled earlier this year.
"There is a short window of opportunity to influence the outcome of the Air Force's proposal," coalition leaders said in an email Thursday.
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.
But several draft versions of the bill released so far have lacked the language needed to bar the Air Force move.
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.
Local politicians also have pledged their support of the coalition.
Last month, U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers, David Price, Richard Hudson and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina 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 owns the only planes based on Fort Bragg, and the unit's C-130H cargo planes provide 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.