Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) is raising concerns that the Air Force could be dismantling an airlift wing that helps train troops—before providing a legally mandated report to Congress.
Tillis sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James about the proposed inactivation of the 440th Airlift Wing, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, his office said on Friday. The 440th flies C-130 aircraft that assist with training for airborne units in the Army and Special Forces Groups at the base.
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Last year’s defense spending bill required the Air Force to submit a report to Congress on the future of the C-130. Lawmakers would then have 60 days to deliver their responses. However, Tillis said in his letter that the Air Force has begun removing airmen from the 440th despite not yet sending the report to Congress.
"The command recently held an all hands meeting to help airmen look for other jobs," Tillis wrote. "If the Air Force has not reached a decision on the future of the 440th why are airmen at Pope [Army Airfield] being told to transfer elsewhere?"
Tillis added that dismantling the 440th could hamper the readiness of "critical airborne units, many of which must be prepared to respond to a range of contingencies on short notice."
"Moreover, the anticipated deactivation of the 440th AW would come at a time when the nation is facing growing uncertainty abroad that could require a military response—a response that only forces at Fort Bragg can provide."
Almost 1,200 airmen serve in the 440th, mostly reservists. The Fayetteville Observer reported this week that the airmen have begun applying for new assignments. Cuts to the defense budget have prompted the unit to shed 200 personnel and reduce flights by 35 to 40 percent.
Removing the 440th from Fort Bragg would leave the base without any permanent Air Force planes. That would require the Air Force to fly in crews from other bases and potentially increase costs.
"Members of the unit, speaking anonymously for fear of negative impact on their careers, have said the decision doesn’t appear to be driven by military strategy, but instead based on perceived political support," the Observer reported.