Amendment to Save Fort Bragg's 440th Passes Senate Committee

An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would require Fort Bragg commanders to sign off on the closure of the 440th Airlift Wing before it can take place has passed a Senate committee.

Sen. Thom Tillis' amendment would require the 18th Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army Special Operations Command to certify that the loss of Fort Bragg's Air Force Reserve wing would not harm training at the nation's largest military installation before the 440th would be permitted to be deactivated.

A separate amendment introduced by Rep. Renee Ellmers that would prohibit funds from being used to deactivate the 440th is expected to be included in the House of Representatives' version of the NDAA, according to Ellmers' office.

Tillis' amendment prohibits the transfer of the 440th Airlift Wing's C-130H planes for 90 days following the eventual passage of the NDAA, allowing the commanders time to chime in on the potential closure.

During that time, the amendment also would require the Air Force to maintain the C-130s and keep the unit manned enough to support the wing's efforts on Fort Bragg.

The 440th Airlift Wing at one time had roughly 1,400 airmen and civilian employees, but those numbers have dwindled since last year, when Air Force leaders announced their plans to close the unit, which operates the only Air Force planes permanently stationed at Fort Bragg.

Tillis' amendment unanimously passed the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

His office said it was the latest in months-long efforts to save the 440th and comes as Tillis continues to wait for answers about the potential impact of shuttering the unit.

Tillis' office said the amendment ensures "combat leaders at Fort Bragg will have a final say on what they need to properly train their troops."

Air Force officials previously told local congressional leaders that Fort Bragg leaders were not consulted before their decision to deactivate the 440th.

Earlier this year, then-Fort Bragg commander, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, publicly questioned the decision.

"It is absolutely vital that our combat leaders at Fort Bragg have a say in the Air Force's short-sighted and strategically flawed decision to shutter the 440th Airlift Wing," Tillis said. "I will continue to pursue any and all options that will help slow down and ultimately stop the removal of C-130Hs from Pope Airfield."

Ellmers' amendment, which is expected to be brought to the House floor Thursday evening, was one of four introduced by the congresswoman last week.

Her office said House leaders are only allowing the one amendment to proceed, but that amendment is expected to be adopted.

The other amendments would have required an Army study of how the closure could affect the readiness of local soldiers and would have required Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno to certify the decision would not affect that readiness.

Ellmers has said saving the 440th was a priority of hers and other local elected officials.

"At a time when there is turmoil abroad, the decision to disband an airlift wing that provides essential training for some of our nation's most unique and foremost rapid deployment forces is not only unsound -- it's unsafe," Ellmers said in a release last week. ".I firmly believe there needs to be accountability for this short-sighted decision."

The amendments from Tillis and Ellmers are the latest in the fight to save the 440th.

Last year, then-Sen. Kay Hagan introduced an amendment into the NDAA requiring an Air Force report on changes to the service's fleet of C-130s, the type of plane used by the 440th.

But that report, released in April, did not lead to changes to the Air Force's plans for the Reserve wing. The report said decisions involving the C-130 fleet were driven by a need to save money and said shuttering the 440th would free $116 million.

That number has been challenged by some within the unit, who wish to remain anonymous for fear of harming their careers.

Airmen have said the costs to bring in air crews from other locations would quickly negate any potential savings from closing the 440th.

Air Force officials, meanwhile, have said they were hampered in their decision process by the inability to close existing bases.

The Air Force report said the force had to look for savings in units that would not require Base Realignment and Closure authority to deactivate.