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Fort Bragg not consulted on 440th Airlift Wing deactivation

More than 1,000 paratroopers participated in the 2008 Randy Oler Toy Drop on Fort Bragg, N.C., which helped distribute holiday gifts to children in the Fayetteville community. The event was hosted by the 82nd Airborne and supported by two C-130 aircraft from the 440th Airlift Wing.

Air Force officials have outlined the decisions that led to their slating Fort Bragg's 440th Airlift Wing for deactivation in their 2015 budget request.

The Air Force officials said they did not consult with Fort Bragg before making the decision.

Officials provided details in a series of answers to questions sent from U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's office. The responses were sent to the North Carolina Democrat's office Thursday and were provided to the Observer by a third party.

The 440th Airlift Wing is a one-star Air Force Reserve unit that has the only planes based at Fort Bragg's Pope Field. The deactivation of the unit would eliminate those transport planes and cut more than 1,400 jobs at Pope.

The 440th's planes provide a little more than 20 percent of airlift support to Fort Bragg's paratroopers.

Under the fiscal 2015 budget request, the wing — which moved to Pope Field from Milwaukee as part of the 2005 base closures — would be deactivated. The unit's aircraft are older model C-130H cargo planes, which the Air Force is moving toward eliminating.

In their responses to Hagan, Air Force officials said they wanted to have the planes moved from Fort Bragg by October but said the process would be delayed to allow time for congressional inquiries and to allow the service to explain its rationale for the move.

The 440th Airlift Wing had been set to receive newer model C-130J planes, but Air Force officials decided to move those to Little Rock, Ark., instead.

By moving the newer planes to Little Rock Air Force Base, officials said they would consolidate the C-130J fleet while taking advantage of facilities already there.

"In short, the Air Force must look for efficiencies in order to maintain a ready force," officials said.

The change and deactivation of the 440th would save the Air Force more than 600 positions, according to the responses. It also would help the Air Force avoid more than $1.5 million in planned costs at Pope Field related to training.

Overall, the move would save the Air Force $23.2 million a year starting in 2016 and a total of $116 million over the course of the military's five-year plan.

Air Force officials said moving the planes to Little Rock would not require construction because of existing support infrastructure. The information sent to Hagan said no military construction funds were spent on Pope Field — after those related to the 2005 BRAC — to prepare the airfield for C-130Js.

Before the BRAC move, though, the Air Force spent more than $10 million on hangar space for C-130Js at Pope.

Officials said the decision to deactivate the 440th was a tough one.

"The Air Force did not come to the decision to divest the 440th (Airlift Wing) lightly," according to the Air Force officials in their responses. "The men and women of the 440th have done a superb job."

Meeting requirements

While Air Force officials said there was no consultation with Fort Bragg units, information on the plan was available to Army leaders during the budget review process. Air Force officials said the Army offered "no opposition" to the proposal.

The benefits of having the 440th at Fort Bragg were outweighed by budget constraints, Air Force officials said.

The officials said they think they can meet all Army training requirements on post by using outside air crews, as they do for most of Fort Bragg's current training missions and "100 percent of the missions at Fort Benning, Fort Campbell, Fort Lewis and many other Army units."

Officials did not specify where the planes could come from but said the bulk of the routine training would be covered by units within 900 miles of Fort Bragg.

To take on the mission of overseeing the airfield, the Air Force would convert the 43rd Airlift Group to an Air Mobility Operations Group to support transient units on Pope Field. The change would reduce the size of the 43rd from a total of 1,051 personnel to roughly 750 personnel, officials said.

Local impact

The Air Force's plan has provoked anger from local officials who worry about the effect of losing the 440th Airlift Wing and its $77 million economic impact.

Despite a flurry of activity that includes resolutions and petitions of support, there is no indication of a shift in plans.

In a Monday email to airmen and community leaders that was forwarded to the Observer, Air Force Brig. Gen. James P. Scanlan — the 440th commander — said there have been no significant changes in the Air Force proposal.

But he noted that Congress was in recess last week and said the Senate Armed Services Committee is not scheduled to conduct a hearing on the defense budget until May 21.

Local leaders, including municipal officials and the Fayetteville Regional Chamber formed the Save the 440th Airlift Wing Coalition last week. Members of Congress who represent the region have vowed to fight the decision.

In Scanlan's email, he said wing officials are still working to get answers on a possible time line and procedures for how local Reservists, civilians and others would go about finding other jobs within the Air Force Reserve.

Air Force Reserve Command has committed to send a team to Pope Field the first week of April to address some of the issues, Scanlan said.

"However, none of the personnel actions associated with the proposed deactivation can be executed until Congress approves the budget proposal," he wrote. "I don't know how long it will take."

Scanlan outlined some of the concerns the proposal has caused 440th airmen, who wonder if they should be seeking transfer to other units now. He wrote that he would not hold anyone back.

"We hate to see anyone leave the 440th, but if you have an opportunity that you feel you cannot pass up, you will get our complete and total support," he wrote.

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