FORT BRAGG, N.C. (WTVD) -- State lawmakers and local leaders are calling out Air Force leaders over the latest move towards inactivating a Fort Bragg unit.
Last week, the Air Force announced a clearing house process for service members with 440th Airlift Wing. The clearing house essentially provides reservists' an opportunity to find other jobs.
The 440th, which employees more than 1,200 airmen and 300 civilians, has been on the 2015 defense budget chopping block for more than a year. The unit operates a fleet of C-130s that the Air Force plans to scale back. It also provides 25 percent of airborne operational support to Fort Bragg's 18th Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division.
But recent talks between newly confirmed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) raised a level of hope to keep the unit, and its planes, at Pope Army Airfield.
In a statement released Friday, Tillis indicated he expected those talks to take place before Air Force leadership forged ahead with inactivation. He also said the Air Force failed to submit a report to Congress detailing the future of the C-130 force structure. The report, a requirement of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act was due in January but never submitted said Tillis.
The argument to halt the 440th inactivation plan has been centered on concern for the Fort Bragg area's economic and security stability.
"It essentially takes the 'air' out of 'airborne,'" Tillis wrote in a letter to Secretary Carter. "The removal of the 440th AW at Pope Army Airfield creates unreasonable risks to the readiness of these critical airborne units, many of which must be prepared to respond to a range of contingencies of on short notice."
In an excerpt from an upcoming newspaper op-ed, the Fayetteville Regional Chambers director of military relations highlights the NDAA requirements, and promised talks between Carter, Tillis and the North Carolina congressional delegation.
"As a community, and as citizens, we should all be very concerned with the actions the Air Force continues to take to shutter the 440th Airlift Wing in apparent disregard of Congress," wrote Mike Lynch.
The 440th's commander is faced with carrying out a mission that's becoming an apparent reality to those who will be looking for other jobs, but Brig. Gen. James Scanlan pointed out factors that helped put the unit on the Air Force budget cutting board.
"It's important to remember that 75 percent of the local training support the 18th Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division comes from off-station [other locations]," said Scanlan. "We provide 25 percent of the support, so 100 percent will come from off-station."
"Obviously there's a cost in that [readiness]," Scanlan continued, "but there's a lot of other costs involved in operating a fleet of 350 C-130s."
A COMMANDER'S ROLE
Gen. Scanlan is perhaps the man in the middle. The 440th commander doesn't make the call, but he understands the political fallout and the high stake. His focus, for now, is centered on taking care of the reservists who will be impacted by the clearing house.
"I'm going to do everything I can to ensure every airman has a home when this is done, and this is done a painlessly as possible," said Scanlan.
The airmen will begin briefings about their job options beginning this weekend.
"There's going to be some hard choices that some folks need to make," said Scanlan. "Some of the more senior folks may elect to retire rather than travel to a different location to perform their drill. All of those are individual choices."
In some cases, Scanlan said rank and job availability could clash. For example, some members may choose lose a stripe, or rank, in order to qualify for a job located in their desired area.
Scanlan pointed out that service members will continue to drill at Pope Army Airfield as the 43rd Airlift Group transitions into 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group.
As he also awaits word on his future, he said he appreciated the community fight to keep the 440th active.
"We can't thank the community enough for their outpouring of support," said Scanlan.
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