Local News

Base Realignment Recommendations Welcomed By N.C. Leaders

Posted September 9, 2005

— The "air" will remain in the airborne at Fort Bragg and an Army research center will stay in Durham under recommendations issued Friday in a final report by the federal commission charged with streamlining the U.S. military.

Fort Bragg, already the Army's largest base, also will gain a pair of major commands as expected.

With most of the proposals well dissected and voted upon in hearings over the past five months, the report held little surprise for those who fought to preserve North Carolina's military presence.

"We feel like we've had a win," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Dordal, who lobbied successfully to keep active-duty airmen at Pope Air Force Base even after it is subsumed by adjacent Fort Bragg.

The report put the formal seal on votes taken in late August by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which was charged with reviewing Department of Defense proposals for streamlining military operations around the country.

The commission agreed with the Pentagon's plan to deactivate the 43rd Airlift Wing, the major command at Pope, and shift its 25 C-130E aircraft elsewhere. The 36 A-10 fighter planes from the base's 23rd Fighter Group are to go to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

The airlift wing ferries paratroopers from Fort Bragg around the world, but the Pentagon proposed leaving just an Air Force Reserve unit with 16 planes to handle those duties. The state's lobbyists insisted that a regular unit was needed.

The commission agreed and also called for bringing 16 newer C-130H aircraft to Pope from General Mitchell Air Reserve Station in Wisconsin.

"It provides the one aspect that we were really concerned about, which was the command and control of the airlift operations. It addresses that concern," said Dordal, who commanded the 43rd Airlift Wing in the late 1990s.

The commission rejected the Pentagon's proposal to close the Army Research Office in Durham, shifting its work and that of other military research offices to the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md.

"That particular facility and its location is not only good for (nearby Research Triangle Park), but good for the Army," said Bridget Lowell, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. David Price, whose district includes the lab.

But it echoed the Pentagon's recommendation to bring two major commands to Fort Bragg -- the Army's Forces Command and Reserve Command both now based in the Atlanta area -- and add a fourth combat brigade of 3,500 to 3,900 paratroopers.

Fort Bragg already is home to the 82nd Airborne Division, the 18th Airborne Corps and the Army Special Operations Command. Moving in the two additional groups will take some time -- as will all the commission's recommendations, noted Hugh Overholt, a retired Army major general who also joined the state's lobbying effort.

First, President Bush must decide whether to accept the panel's plan and send it to Congress. The report will become law unless the House and the Senate pass a joint resolution objecting to it within 45 days -- something that has never happened in previous base-closing rounds.

After a plan is approved, the Defense Department will need at least a few years to work out details including how to transfer and reorganize units, and examine issues such as environmental quality and future use of properties it wants to close.

At Fort Bragg, "bringing the Forces Command headquarters up is a real big mission transfer. You're bringing in a major Army headquarters there and they've got to find a place, for one, to put it," Overholt said.

"Eventually, they're going to have to construct another command building there, in my opinion. ... You're bringing in a four-star (general), and with that comes a lot of bells and whistles."

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