Politicians Critical of Air Force Support for Fort Bragg Training

Fort Bragg's elected representatives and a former 82nd Airborne Division brigade commander are teaming up to halt the drawdown of U.S. forces and bolster support for training at Fort Bragg.

In separate speeches, North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers and Sen. Thom Tillis railed against the lack of Air Force support for Fort Bragg's airborne forces.

Ellmers, who spoke on the House floor late Monday, did so while throwing support behind Rep. Chris Gibson's Protecting Our Security Through Utilizing Right-Sized End-Strength (POSTURE) Act of 2016.

She was one of five cosponsors to speak on behalf of the bill, introduced by Gibson earlier this year.

Gibson, a New York Republican, is a former commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and led the unit on a short notice deployment to Haiti for earthquake relief efforts in 2010.

His bill would halt the drawdown of the U.S. military's land forces. It has support from Ellmers and another North Carolina Republican, Rep. Richard Hudson.

On Tuesday, Tillis took to the Senate floor to express his displeasure with the Air Force.

Last week, Tillis told The Fayetteville Observer that the Air Force was failing to meet training requirements in support of Fort Bragg's airborne forces, including the 18th Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division.

North Carolina's junior senator, a Republican, repeated those complaints Tuesday.

As home to the nation's rapid reaction forces, Tillis said local readiness was important and should be a national security priority.

Tillis said budget cutters in the Air Force are slowly chipping away at the readiness of Fort Bragg soldiers, at a time of growing uncertainty and increasing threats.

The lack of support is related to the inactivation of the 440th Airlift Wing, a Reserve wing that operates the only C-130s stationed at Fort Bragg's Pope Field.

Earlier this year, the wing stopped participating in airborne operations as it prepares for inactivation this fall.

Since then, the Air Force -- which claimed it could support Fort Bragg training with outside air crews -- has fallen short of the minimum jump requirements for Fort Bragg, Tillis said.

"They're failing. The Air Force has missed the Army's minimum jump requirements every month this year," he said.

Ellmers cited the numbers Tillis provided to the Observer last week. Those numbers show Fort Bragg's monthly requirements for airborne operations to be 10,000 paratrooper drops, or a "bare minimum" of 8,000 drops.

Last month, only 6,100 paratroopers exited from Air Force planes.

In her speech, Ellmers said that support shows the Air Force is not following through on its promise to provide something akin to the support the 440th Airlift Wing offered Fort Bragg's airborne community.

"The Air Force is already falling well short of this promise," Ellmers said.

She said the lack of Air Force support is one example of how a military drawdown is impacting national security at Fort Bragg, and said it should be a priority to halt it.

"The POSTURE Act will ensure that our troops are ready and prepared to defend our nation at a moment's notice," she said.

She called for additional support for Fort Bragg, citing a belligerent Russia, growing Chinese military and the Islamic State.

"This is not the time to be cutting our military," she said. "This is the time to strengthen it."

Gibson said that when it comes to readiness on Fort Bragg, officials should know that "lives are on the line."

The retired Army colonel said he knew from experience that the 440th Airlift Wing was an incredible outfit, and said he was concerned about the decision to inactive the unit.

On the House floor, he said he would join Ellmers in working to "make sure the entire installation at Fort Bragg has the necessary resources to deliver and to get its mission done."

One step is the Posture Act, he said.

If passed, the bill would halt the drawdown and restore roughly $600 million to support training and equipping of U.S. forces.

Specifically, the bill would set minimum active-duty troop levels at 480,000 for the Army; 329,200 for the Navy; 184,000 for the Marine Corps and 317,000 for the Air Force.

That would effectively preserve 67,000 soldier and Marine jobs otherwise slated to be cut as part of the drawdown.

Gibson said the current drawdown, scheduled through 2018, creates too high a risk and doesn't take into account threats to national security from Russia and others. The cuts could take three to four years to reverse if they are allowed to take place, he said.

Gibson said the funding needed to support those troops through halting the drawdown could come from repealing deep cuts imposed by Congress in previous years and eliminating waste in the Pentagon.

"This is not only a national security issue, it's a smart fiscal issue," Gibson said. "We have paid dearly with treasure and blood to have this force."

He said that in his experience, military campaigns cannot be won by technology. It takes troops, specifically land forces, to do the job of fighting the nation's wars and responding to international humanitarian disasters.

"We're coming to make sure that we keep strong our land forces," Gibson said. "The predicate here is the belief in peace through strength."

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