Tillis focuses on Fort Bragg airfields after audit calls them 'poorest infrastructure' in Army
By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer | Published: May 21, 2020
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — A recent Army audit report that lists Fort Bragg's airfields as "being the poorest infrastructure in the Army" has one of the state's U.S. senators seeking answers.
Sen. Thom Tillis, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked top Army leaders about the runways during a March 26 committee meeting.
Fort Bragg's airfields serve the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Joint Special Operations Command and Immediate Response Force, Tillis told Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army.
"Is the Army adequately funding power projection and installation readiness, which also extends to rail, stationing requirements and facility issues that undermine training and readiness?" Tillis asked.
The audit has not been publicly released, and attempts to reach Tillis' office to clarify what issues the audit outlined were not returned as of Thursday afternoon.
McCarthy and McConville told Tillis that since 2011, the Army has invested more than $115 million in runway repairs, aprons and airfield lighting at Pope Army Airfield.
The Army and Fort Bragg absorbed the airfield after base realignment and closure in March 2011.
It is where the 82nd Airborne Division's Immediate Response Force departs worldwide within 18 hours of notification.
In fiscal 2020, $25 million for airfield lighting repair was approved; and the fiscal 2021 budget includes plans for $65 million in repairs to the Pope Army Airfield runway and taxiways, the Army leaders told senators.
The March 26 committee meeting is not the first time Tillis has focused on Fort Bragg's runways.
In 2016, he advocated for an extension of Pope Field's runway, which was last extended in 1972, according to Fayetteville Observer archives.
Tillis described the runway as too short to support a fully loaded C-17 or C-5, meaning crews must either carry less equipment or refuel after leaving Fort Bragg.
"There's no question that we need to get the airfield lengthened," Tillis said, after funding for the extension was not included in fiscal 2017. "But looking at priorities, it didn't need to be in this iteration."
Fort Bragg officials said they could not comment about the specific audit Tillis referred to in March, which has not been released publicly.
But for the current fiscal year, installation leaders requested $90 million for major repairs on Pope Airfield's water drainage system, airfield lighting and runway and taxiway and ramps, officials said.
"These repairs are all designed to ensure the airfield remains mission capable well into the future," said Tom McCollum, a Fort Bragg spokesman.
If funds are approved, repairs would tentatively start about the second quarter of fiscal 2021, in the January to March time frame, he said.
During the past decade, there have been smaller projects at Pope Airfield to maintain operations, but none to the $65 million extent, he said.
McCollum said weather, the number of missions and size of aircraft and loads that use the runway contribute to the need for major repairs and maintenance.
"Pope Airfield is critical to our mission," he said. "It gives us the ability to quickly deploy units and equipment anywhere in the world within hours. While the repairs are being made, the airfield will be shut down and we will change how we operate, but we will still be able to deploy forces within hours upon notification, just from another location."