We'll believe it when we see it officially declared, but we'll still savor the optimism.
Thom Tillis, this state's junior senator, has been in the thick of the fight to save Pope Field's 440th Airlift Wing. He says the Army has made clear to the Air Force what its training needs are, and how that requires at least some C-130s on Fort Bragg. Some who have joined Tillis in the battle to save the 440th believe the Air Force will soon propose a compromise.
The senator spent four days on the post last week, meeting with top generals. "When the leadership on Fort Bragg says they need to complete a training mission." he said, "there better be a plane on the ground."
Some members of the Save the 440th coalition say they expect an offer of a reduced-sized command at Pope, possibly cutting from 12 to eight C-130s - an improvement from what the 440th has available now, given transfers of flight and support crews. The Air Force Reserve Command, of which the 440th is a part, has postponed the inactivation of the unit until the end of this fiscal year, but many 440th personnel have already moved on.
Tillis and others say the Air Force decision to fold up the 440th was based on the economics of shrinking military budgets. Air Force leaders believe they can't justify the expense of keeping an airlift wing at Fort Bragg. Air Force leaders say they can provide the aircraft to meet Bragg's airborne and special operations training needs by flying them in from other bases.
That may be possible at other, smaller posts, but not here, the home of the nation's primary rapid-response force. Training at Fort Bragg includes everyday interactions between soldiers and flight crews, and aircraft available on short notice or in bad weather. The inactivation of the 440th - which the Air Force never discussed with Bragg leaders until recently - would clearly degrade airborne training.
Jeff Mozingo, who chairs the Pope Special Activities Committee and has become a vocal opponent of the Air Force's plans, says the 440th is struggling to carry out its mission. The service has yet to show how inactivation will be cost-effective, he says.
Perhaps the bean counters can do that, but they can't prove that inactivation won't affect airborne readiness here. Some damage is already showing.
We hope this rare burst of optimism about the 440th leads to the conclusion that Fort Bragg really needs - the 440th's continued presence at Pope Field.
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