A North Carolina lawmaker is challenging Air Force plans already underway to dismantle Pope Field's 440th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit made up of about 1,200 people.

In a Friday letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., wrote that the deactivation "creates unreasonable risks to the readiness of these critical airborne units, many of which must be prepared to respond to a range of contingencies on short notice."

Tillis also questioned whether the Air Force has the legal right to deactivate the wing before prior to reporting to Congress on the future of the C-130 force structure, which will determine which missions and aircraft can be moved to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

Tillis wrote that Congress is supposed to have 60 days to respond to an Air Force report on the force structure. That report, though due in January, has not yet been delivered to lawmakers.

An Air Force Reserve spokesman acknowledged last week that the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the service from obligating or spending funds to transfer C-130s for 60 days after the Air Force secretary "submits an assessment of the costs and benefits of the proposed transfer."

But "Congress did not provide the Air Force Reserve with funding or manpower authorization to continue operating the 440th Airlift Wing through" fiscal 2015, Col. Robert Palmer said in an email. "Air Force Reserve Command has begun taking reasonable and prudent steps to implement the force structure changes that were announced" a year ago as part of the president's 2015 President's Bbudget rRequest.

A Mobility Capabilities Assessment found the Air Force had more intratheater airlift capacity than is required to support defense strategy, Palmer said. "The decision to inactivate the 440th Airlift Wing reflects intratheater airlift needs of the Air Force."

The 440th Airlift Wing is the Air Force's first reverse associate flying wing, made up of active-duty and Reserve members. It provides operational direction for all active-duty and Reserve C-130 flying operations at Pope.

In his letter, Tillis called Air Force plans to dismantle the 440th ill-advised.

"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," the senator wrote.

Further, "Air Force leadership has stated that after any deactivation of the 440th AW, out of state aircraft would support all airlift requirements for Bragg and Pope [Army Airfield]," Tillis wrote. "Since Pope AAF is the busiest airfield in the world for joint training missions requiring tactical airlift, we view such a substitution as wholly inadequate, inefficient, and shortsighted."

Tillis is not the only one with objections. On Monday, the Fayetteville Observer quoted Fort Bragg's commanding general saying that the 440th Airlift Wing "should not go."

Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, made the remarks at the Fayetteville Regional Chamber's command performance breakfast, the newspaper reported.

"Of all places in the world, why would we take that capability away from Fort Bragg?" Anderson was quoted as saying.

The deactivation will force about 1,000 Pope Field drilling reservists and 250 Air Force Reserve technicians to find new jobs, AFRC said.

Drilling reservists who work part-time for the 440th are among the first to be affected by the inactivation, Palmer said. Also affected: full-time support personnel, which includes civilians, Air Reserve technicians, or ARTs, and active guard reservists, who are reservists serving four-year active-duty tours.

Many ARTs and active guard reservists will have the option to stay on through the fall.

Air Force Reserve plans to open a clearinghouse to help many of those affected find new assignments; some may also be eligible for relocation expenses, Palmer said.

"We recognize that force structure changes pose significant challenges for our Reservists and their communities," Palmer said. AFRC "leaders at all levels are committed to doing everything they can to help our Reservists through the transition."

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