Log in Newsletter

Pope Will Still Put the “Air” in Airborne

When the Air Force turns over Pope Air Force Base to Fort Bragg, there will still be an Air Force presence. Several Air Force units will remain as guests at Pope Army Airfield to include the 3rd Aerial Port Squadron, 18th Air Support Group, 14th Air Support Operations Squadron, and the 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. Additionally, a “realigned” reserve wing of 16 C-130s from the Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station and an Air National Guard (130th Airlift) Wing from West Virginia will also make Pope Army Airfield its operational base, adding to the capability of what the 440th Airlift Wing brings to Pope.

In essence, the Air Force at Pope Army Field will continue to put the “air” in airborne.

“The general public won’t see a difference in the operational side,” said retired Brig. Gen. Paul Dordal, former Pope AFB wing commander and now executive director of the BRAC regional task force. Dordal said more temporary duty and traditional reservists will provide the airlift support needed by the Army. “They’ll do a lot of missions with off-station aircraft,” Dordal said as he headed for the Hope Mills Town Council meeting for yet another presentation on BRAC.

“It’s an evolutionary time for the Air Force. There’s a tremendous desire by the Air Force to save money and the newer aircraft take priority,” he said.

The biggest change the public will notice as a result of BRAC is the location of Forces Command locating here. “It’s (US Forces Command) the intellectual capital of the military and they control over $30 billion. They’ll make decisions on how that money is spent,” he said.

The town of Spring Lake is nestled between a portion of Pope and Fort Bragg, but the town has always felt a closer bond to Pope. “Pope is smaller than Bragg, and Spring Lake is smaller than Fayetteville, so we tend to identify with Pope,” said Richard Higgins, Spring Lake commissioner and former town manager. Higgins retired from the Army and remained in Spring Lake to become active in its government.

“Because of our location, we have a real connection, a lasting connection with Pope,” Higgins said. “A lot of people from Pope live in Spring Lake, many of our church congregations are people from Pope and losing them will be a real loss to the community.”

When Spring Lake Mayor Ethel Clark first heard of Pope’s future under BRAC she was not happy. “We were shocked when we found out,” she said. However, after taking stock of the situation, Clark said Spring Lake will survive the evolution of Pope. “We’ll lose some airmen but Pope will still have an Air Force presence,” she said. The reservists, although temporary visitors, cannot all stay on base. They’ll have to eat and sleep somewhere and the new Hampton Inn that recently opened in Spring Lake will be ready and able to make their stay comfortable.

“I was disappointed in the beginning but I’ve become optimistic. A lot of people from the 43rd have retired here, and although they may not all live in Spring Lake, they have bonded with our community,” she said.

Despite its smaller size when compared to Fort Bragg, Pope has always played a huge role in the community. Although Pope was always a closed base, it opened its doors to worthy causes. The Region M Council of Government held its senior games at Pope. Additionally, the base hosted thousands of people during the Pope-Bragg open house and air show held each May. The air show at one time anchored the Dogwood Festival’s month-long list of events and activities and brought people to the area from throughout the U.S. In May 1987, Bob Hope celebrated the Air Force’s 40th anniversary at Pope. President Ronald Reagan and Brook Shield joined him on stage for the celebration attended by thousands of spectators.

Finally, the base since 1962 has hosted an airlift rodeo every two years or so. Volant Rodeo would bring air crews from around the U.S. and the world that would compete in various airlift-related tasks such as air drops of equipment, aerial refueling, aircraft navigation, loading and offloading cargo, and security forces competitions. The numbers of people it would bring to the Spring Lake and Fayetteville area definitely benefited the local economy.