Fayetteville area reels from looming 440th inactivation

FAYETTEVILLE (WTVD) -- Confirmation of the 440th Airlift Wing inactivation comes this week, in a letter from the Air Force to the Committee on Armed Services. The move, which has been fought by North Carolina delegates and local leaders, is being called "deeply disappointing" for the readiness of Fort Bragg troops and the livelihood of a military community.

The letter, dated Feb. 4, outlines plans to dismantle the Air Force Reserve unit, send 700 reservists to other duty stations and move Fort Bragg's C-130 fleet to alternate locations. The planes will be available to troops' training mission exercises on an as-needed basis.

For years, state politicians and local leaders have called this a costly move that compromises troop readiness, but the news that trickled down Friday made many people consider the livelihood of the reservists.

"I'm thinking about the families," said George Breece, a Fayetteville Army veteran and member of the state's military affairs commission. "There are over 700 families who on this Super Bowl weekend will be sitting across from their loved ones at their dining room tables, talking about what's next in their lives. It's not the tens of millions of dollars of course that's going to affect our local economy, but it's about families."

North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers said she is "done playing nice." In a statement, the 2nd District representative called the decision "beyond disappointing" and "irresponsible to our paratroopers and their readiness."

"I am two years into fighting this proposal, and the Air Force has yet to alleviate any of my initial concerns," Ellmers said. "In fact, the Air Force has unapologetically marched forward with this misguided proposal and shown disdain at the concerns voiced by the NC delegation and the Fayetteville community."

At the same time Sen. Thom Tillis said he found out about the move through third parties instead of the Air Force.

"I am surprised and deeply disappointed with the Army's decision to acquiesce to the Air Force's strategy for how they will complete training at Fort Bragg," Tillis said in a statement." Now the burden is on the Fort Bragg commanders to demonstrate to Congress and the Fayetteville community that they have not jeopardized the needs of the Global Response Force to placate the reckless desires of budget cutters in the Pentagon."

"In my discussions with the former commander of the XVIII ABN Corps and soldiers and airmen at Fort Bragg, they say it makes no sense, will negatively affect their flexibility, and will likely threaten their ability to provide the training needed to complete their mission," the statement continued. "The fact that I received this update not from the Air Force, but from third parties, further undermines my confidence in this decision and galvanizes my commitment to holding the parties accountable. For as long as I am a U.S. Senator, the Air Force can fully expect me to require that they demonstrate, on a monthly basis, how they are meeting their obligation to provide assets at Pope Airfield and fulfilling the training requirements of our brave men and women."

Ellmers' camp confirmed her meeting with Fort Bragg leadership Monday. She said the letter begins a 90-day review period by the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson also released a statement:

"I am deeply disappointed in this irresponsible decision to deactivate the 440th Airlift Wing. This unit is absolutely critical to conduct the type of training that both Airborne and Special Operations forces located at 'the epicenter of the universe' rely on to conduct the high risk missions they're charged with in combat. As barbaric terrorist like ISIS and murderous regimes like Iran seek to destroy our country, I fear this action will put our national security at risk.

"Beyond the immediate hit on readiness, this decision will negatively impact our service members, their families and our local economy. While I understand we face challenging fiscal times, I expect the Pentagon to make budget decisions without sacrificing the safety of our nation or the great men and women who fight to defend it."

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