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Group plots lobby strategy for keeping 440th Airlift Wing at Fort Bragg

Government, community and business leaders met Monday to discuss their strategy to try to keep planes present at Fort Bragg's Pope Field.

The group, known as the Save the 440th Airlift Wing Coalition, oppose the recently proposed federal budget that would effectively earmark the 440th for deactivation.

The Air Force Reserve unit currently has 12 C-130Hs. Under the proposed budget, Little Rock Air Force Base would be the new home of the next-generation of C-130s, the J models, leaving Pope without planes.

Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey has been instrumental in gathering support for the coalition.

"We need to be able to show what is the cost of moving this airlift wing out of the region to being able to make sure the soldiers are trained and ready," Rey said. "Hopefully, individuals up at the highest level will look at it and say, 'You know what, this doesn't really make sense.'"

More than a dozen people gathered for the coalition's first meeting, which was at First Citizen's Bank in Westwood Shopping Center.

Rey was joined by Doug Peters, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Regional Chamber, and Mike Lynch, the chamber's director of military relations and leadership programs, to lead the meeting.

The chamber's board of directors already had begun rallying support before the meeting, posting a resolution online for residents to sign to show their opposition to the proposal. A link to the resolution can be found at savetheair.biz and fayettevilleoutfront.com.

Representatives from the offices of Sen. Kay Hagan and state lawmaker Wesley Meredith were also on hand, as well as school superintendent Frank Till Jr. and representatives from the city manager's office, Cumberland County and the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Much of the discussion focused on developing a strategy for formally opposing the current plan.

The group landed on what is essentially a two-pronged argument with the emphasis on how the deactivation of the 440th would be detrimental to defense readiness.

"The Air Force provides about 23 percent of the training missions for the paratroopers at Fort Bragg," Lynch said. "If that capability goes away, you're either going to have a reduction in training or you're going to have to bring that capability in from somewhere else. We're trying to save that capability, and the logical way to do that is by maintaining the 440th here."

Mike Moose, the state president of the Reserve Officers Association, agreed that the coalition must show that the military is best served with the 440th at Pope.

"The Air Force, that's headquarters Air Force, doesn't care about how many jobs are lost here in our community," Moose said. "It comes down to readiness."

The second part of the argument, one that some acknowledged is the weaker part of the argument, is the negative impact the loss of the 440th would have on the local economy.

"I think we have one opportunity to drive this message home," Peters said. "And frankly, the economic impact on this community isn't going to win the day. We have to illustrate that this is an issue that is bigger than $77 million a year in economic impact and the loss of 1,600 jobs."

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