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RAF MILDENHALL — The number of personnel at one of Europe’s biggest ammunition storage facilities will be chopped in half over the next several years as budget cuts and force-shaping efforts take effect in the 501st Combat Support Wing.

Once one of three main ammo hubs in the European theater with munitions on hand for U.S. forces worldwide, RAF Welford now will serve only nearby RAF Fairford, an airstrip that periodically hosts bombers in transit, said Maj. Jeffrey Pruss, commander of the 420th Munitions Squadron at Welford.

In the process, the unit will lose 53 of its 101 personnel, to be bled off over the next three years, Pruss said.

The cuts at Welford are among several changes hitting the 501st this year as the military reshapes itself in the United Kingdom and the wing takes on new missions, said Col. Blake Lindner, commander of the wing. They are part of the Air Force’s greater effort to cut tens of thousands of airmen and direct money to upgrading the fleet in coming years, he said.

“We’re going to be changing for the next couple of years,” Lindner said.

The 501st, based at RAF Mildenhall, is responsible for the “geographically separated units,” in the region — a collection of seven small installations spread across the country.

While the 501st’s personnel overall will be reduced, the wing will add several new bases to its area of responsibility, Lindner said.

It will pick up Stavanger Air Base in Norway, and Blenheim Crescent and 2 Providence Court in London, a pair of tiny Navy facilities, Lindner said.

Stavanger will be absorbed by the 501st in the next two to three months, Lindner said. The base, which now has only about 40 active-duty personnel, currently provides communications, transportation and personnel support to U.S. personnel in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, according to globalsecurity.org.

The wing will lose 139 airmen in the force-shaping cuts, or about 14 percent of the U.K.’s approximately 950 losses. Welford is proportionately the hardest hit, facing a 52 percent reduction of the base’s personnel.

Along with Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Camp Darby in Italy, Welford used to be one of three strategic ammunition reserves in Europe, Pruss said.

When the munitions division learned last year that about one-third of its troops would be cut in the force-shaping move, however, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commanders decided to revamp the munitions picture in Europe.

With its port and railhead, Camp Darby was chosen to handle most of the ground-transported munitions in Europe. Ramstein will handle the command’s air-lifted munitions, said USAFE munitions division chief Col. Bret Klassen.

With its relative isolation in the farmlands west of London, miles from the nearest port, Welford became the sacrificial lamb.

From now on, the tiny base will service only Fairford, which has no dedicated aircraft but, as the site of the Air Force’s longest runway in the U.K., periodically hosts and supplies long-range bombers such as the B-52 Stratofortress.

Even with a smaller staff, the base won’t have to face the problem of a massive oversupply, however, because the cuts will take place over a period of years and the military has gradually tapered off the volume of munitions stored at Welford, Pruss said.

“Kindly enough over the last four to five years, they haven’t been pushing that much [ammunition] into us,” he said.

Part of the drawdown has to do with the nature of the weapons kept by the Air Force, said Lt. Col. Carey Tucker, deputy chief of the munitions division at USAFE headquarters in Ramstein.

No longer does the Air Force stockpile masses of bygone-era cluster bombs and other unguided munitions, he said. The move to smaller, smarter weapons has reduced the scale of the logistics effort needed to store and move bombs, Tucker said.

“It’s really technology that’s done that,” he said.

After Welford’s munitions squadron, communications units in the 501st were the next hardest hit by personnel cuts instituted last summer, according to numbers from Lindner.

The 422nd Air Base Group at RAF Croughton will lose 44 out of about 350 airmen, while the 423rd Air Base Group, covering RAFs Alconbury, Molesworth and Upwood, will lose 26 blue suits.

Active-duty cuts,by unit

501st Combat Support Wing headquarters, RAF Mildenhall: 4

420th Air Base Group, RAFs Fairford, Welford: 59

421st Air Base Group, RAF Menwith Hill: 6

422nd Air Base Group, RAF Croughton: 44

423rd Air Base Group, RAFs Alconbury, Molesworth, Upwood: 26

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