February 28, 2015 – The Fayetteville Observer, By Drew Brooks Military
Congressional aides said North Carolina leaders aren't taking the fight to save Fort Bragg's 440th Airlift Wing lightly.
Speaking to The Fayetteville Observer last week, they described a delegation of two senators - Richard Burr and Thom Tillis - and 13 representatives unified across party lines.
Locally, that includes Reps. Renee Ellmers, Richard Hudson and David Price.
“We’ve been actually working quite a bit,” an aide to a Republican representative said, describing how leaders have banded together to pressure Air Force and Department of Defense leaders over the decision to inactivate the 440th.
A C-130H sits on the flight line after returning from an aero-medical training flight Wednesday, March 5, 2014, on Pope Field. An Air Force proposal is recommending cutting the 440th Airlift Wing’s aircraft and shuttering the unit. The wing moved to Fort Bragg not long ago, as part of the 2005 BRAC. (Staff photo/Andrew Craft)
Much of those discussions have taken place behind the scenes, the aide said.
“We’re not just kicking and screaming,” he said. “We’ve got to work out some sort of compromise.”
At least two letters of support have been sent on the issue in recent weeks.
Both were addressed to Ash Carter, the new secretary of defense who, before confirmation, promised a meeting on the 440th to Tillis, North Carolina’s freshman senator.
Tillis sent a letter to Carter after learning the Air Force Reserve was planning to begin helping reservists leave the 440th Airlift Wing, a move many criticized as stepping out ahead of Congress, which had required a report on C-130 movements.
But Air Force Reserve leaders said the report requirement only halted the movement of aircraft, not personnel, and plans to inactivate the 440th were moving along as planned.
A second letter, signed by all 15 members of the North Carolina delegation, was sent weeks earlier.
That letter called the 440th inactivation a “tactical and strategic mistake that will impact the readiness of America’s rapid reaction and Special Forces.”
A Republican aide said the inactivation was shortsighted. He said officials believe Carter is “inheriting a bad decision” that poses undue risk to national security.
“The scariest thing is this has no strategic merit,” he said.
The Air Force plans to inactivate the 440th were revealed last year.
After years of preparation for newer-model C-130 cargo planes, unit officials instead learned their current C-130H planes would be sent elsewhere and the unit shuttered.
The one-star Air Force Reserve unit had about 1,400 airmen at the time and provided a $77 million economic impact around Fort Bragg.
Previous attempts to save the unit by Congress have had mixed results, but leaders thought the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act provided a reprieve of sorts by requiring the C-130 report and requiring a 60-day congressional review.
That report is focused on justification for where C-130s are based and where they will be moved under current plans.
In response to outrage over moving forward with the inactivation, Air Force Reserve leaders said they were taking no action barred by law by setting up a clearing house to help reservists find new units.
They objected to the characterization of the clearing house as being a “nefarious plot” to neuter the unit.
After opening the clearing house last weekend, 440th officials said about 200 airmen signed up, hoping to find new units. Inactivation is expected to take about six months to complete.
Congressional aides said they know they’re running out of time, but said leaders are “committed to pulling out all stops.”
In addition to the promised meeting between Tillis and Carter, officials said North Carolina representatives also have asked for a meeting with the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of the Air Force Reserve.
The issue has forged a common bond among legislators who don’t often agree.
“It’s been one of the easiest issues to garner support,” an aide said. “Everyone dropped everything to work on this.”
One aide said the 440th issue is “the most unifying” she has seen in several years on Capital Hill working with North Carolina congressmen.
Their efforts come on the heels of a more high-profile lobbying effort.
Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, recently spent time at the Pentagon talking to leaders about the 440th inactivation.
At a community breakfast last week, Anderson publicly threw his support behind saving the 440th.
Previously, Fort Bragg officials had stayed away from the fracas, saying the inactivation was an Air Force decision.
Anderson said the 440th provides valuable training on Fort Bragg and cautioned that readiness would be affected without its presence.
The 440th also has support in other airmen from units facing inactivation.
An airman at the 403rd Airlift Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, said reservists there are watching the 440th closely while also pulling for their own fight against Air Force leadership.
Please note: This article was originally posted to The Fayetteville Observer Saturday, March 28, and was updated Monday, March 2.
The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.