08/02/05 — Pope to get visit from BRAC today

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Pope to get visit from BRAC today

By Turner Walston
Published in News on August 2, 2005 2:06 PM

Base Realignment and Closure commissioners Harold W. Gehman and James T. Hill were visiting Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville today, according to the commission's Web site.

Pentagon officials have recommended the commission close Pope and turn its facilities over to Fort Bragg.

BRAC officials have said they will visit every base and post recommended for closure before making a decision.

Last week, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole called on the commission to reject the Department of Defense's recommendation to realign Pope.

"We believe the Commis-sion should reject the Department of Defense's BRAC proposals relating to Pope, and instead should establish a joint base at Fort Bragg and Pope that maintains and enhances our premier power protection force," wrote Mrs. Dole and other members of the North Carolina delegation in a letter to BRAC Chairman Anthony Principi.

Under the Pentagon's proposal, the 43rd Airlift Wing now at Pope would be shifted to Little Rock AFB in Arkansas. About 4,300 airmen would be involved. Pope also would lose the 23rd Fighter Group, which would be relocated to Moody AFB in Georgia. That would mean the loss of about 1,000 airmen.

In the letter, Dole and her colleagues raised a number of specific concerns about the BRAC staff's recommendation to remove C-130s from Pope, including the role the 43rd Airlift Wing plays in the rapid deployment and training of the airborne troops stationed at Fort Bragg and the working relationships forged in joint training.

Additionally, the North Carolina delegation said that the projected cost analysis and savings for the proposal are "seriously flawed and inaccurate." The Air Force would save money but the Army and the Defense Department would end up paying for those supposed savings, the lawmakers said.

Joining Mrs. Dole on the letter to Chairman Principi were Sen. Richard Burr and Reps. Bob Etheridge, Robin Hayes and Mike McIntyre.

Troy Pate, chairman of the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Support Council and of the North Carolina Advisory Commission on Military Affairs, said he did not think the commission would revisit the Pentagon's decision to add to Seymour Johnson's mission.

Pentagon officials said in May that not only would Seymour Johnson be spared from the budget cutting ax, but that it would get additional missions that would add aircraft and manpower.

"I don't think they're coming back to Seymour," Pate said. "Everything I'm hearing so far is positive. As far as I know, we're still good."

Pate said he is headed to Washington to observe a hearing Thursday on Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Va., which was recently placed on the BRAC closure list. There has been speculation that aircraft from Oceana could be relocated to North Carolina. The additional aircraft could compete for airspace with jets flying out of Seymour Johnson, he said.

"If they come to North Carolina, it could have some negative impact on Seymour Johnson," Pate said. "You're talking about over 200 aircraft."

The BRAC commission has until Sept. 8 to forward its recommendations to the president.

Pope will be one of the military installations on the agenda at a BRAC hearing Aug. 10 in Washington D.C. That hearing is the final one on the commission's schedule.