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N.C.-based unit carries strategic value for U.S. readiness and national security

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tillis mug with column 042015

Sen. Thom Tillis

By Sen. Thom Tillis

When the famous British philosopher Jeremy Bentham was confronted with an argument devoid of any factual or logical foundation, he would look at his adversary and say that is “nonsense on stilts.”

The News & Record’s portrayal of the North Carolina congressional delegation’s defense of the 440th Air Wing at Pope Army Airfield as nothing more than a cheap trick to keep the pork flowing (editorial, April 17), is just that — nonsense on stilts.

I have made it abundantly clear to the Air Force that if they can provide metrics that show that deactivating the 440th Airlift Wing does not affect the daily training requirements of the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 82nd Airborne Division and the Army Special Forces Groups, then I am perfectly willing to accept their decision, even if I may not like that decision’s ramifications on our local communities. However, the Air Force report on C-130 operations says nothing about the impact on those requirements.

It is simply wrong to dismiss the tremendous strategic value of the 440th Airlift Wing for America’s overall readiness and national security. Pope Army Airfield is the busiest airfield in the world for training requiring tactical airlift. This flexibility has fulfilled training needs and accommodated last-minute training opportunities. Maximum effectiveness can only be provided by a locally assigned unit. This is why tactical airlift aircraft have been locally assigned to Pope since 1954.

It is also wrong to make the claim that the Air Force’s decision makes any sort of fiscal sense. Is it really cheaper to fly in units from as far away as Hawaii to support the Airborne’s daily training regimen than to have those planes permanently assigned to Pope Airfield? The resulting loss of flexible response provided by locally assigned aircraft renders the same level of support extremely difficult to provide, especially in budget-constrained times.

I will continue my efforts to stop the Air Force’s strategically flawed and short-sighted decision to shutter the 440th Airlift Wing. Many of the questions I have been asking Air Force leaders for months remain unanswered, and that is why I will continue my hold on all civilian Department of Defense and Department of Air Force nominees. I also will continue to push for language to be inserted into Department of Defense appropriations legislation that prevents the Air Force from relocating aircraft or personnel currently assigned to Pope Airfield.

From the comfort of their offices in Greensboro, the editors of the News & Record seem to have developed a military acumen worthy of Gen. Eisenhower, because in February the commanding officer of the XVIII ABN Corps — the overall commander of America’s airborne forces — Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said that “of all places to cut, why would they (the Air Force) take that capability away from Fort Bragg?” Fort Bragg leadership says it was not consulted by the Air Force.

The response of the Air Force was they don’t check their decisions with Army combat leaders. Apparently, the News & Record editorial board doesn’t, either.

Thom Tillis is a Republican U.S. senator representing North Carolina.

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