'Pope Field' recalls air base's heritage

Staff WriterMarch 1, 2011 

The story of Pope Air Force Base comes full circle today as the Army retakes possession of the installation and changes its name back to Pope Field, its World War I-era moniker.

A ceremony this morning at which the land itself will return to the Army marks the final change at Pope ordered by the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission. With the land transfer, the Army takes responsibility for the 2,158-acre base, including providing police and fire protection. The Army has run dining and recreational facilities and other services for airmen and their families since September.

The Army built Pope Field in 1919, before the Air Force was a separate branch of the military. It eventually became one of the busiest bases in the Air Force.

"This is more about the future than it is about the past," said Col. James Johnson, who was still commander of the 43rd Airlift Wing of Pope Air Force Base as of Monday evening. Today, however, the 43rd Airlift Wing will be deactivated after 64 years of service, and Johnson will move to a job at the Pentagon. The 43rd will become the smaller 43rd Airlift Group.

The 'air' in 'Airborne'

Under BRAC, Pope also lost its A-10 attack jets to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. But it gained the 440th Airlift Wing from Wisconsin, part of the Air Force Reserve, which will be in charge of the cargo planes and airfield at Pope. The 440th is gaining airmen as a result of the change.

The 440th, too, is returning to its roots; it was formed at Pope as a troop carrier group in 1943.

Just as they have for decades, Fort Bragg's troops from the 18th Airborne Corps, the 82nd Airborne Division and Special Operations will come to Pope's Green Ramp to board planes when they are needed anywhere around the world. And just as they always have, Air Force personnel will man the aircraft and get the troops where they need to go.

"We put the air in Airborne," Pope veterans like to say.

There may be some land-use changes as the Army converts an old Air Force golf course to residential neighborhoods or other needs to accommodate the influx of people to Fort Bragg, also the result of BRAC.

But except for the removal of chain-link fencing that separates Pope from Fort Bragg and for the opening of the two security gates that crews had to pass through between them, there will be little discernible difference for people who now live or work at Pope after today's ceremony.

"The planes are going to keep flying, and the soldiers are going to keep jumping out of them," said Ben Abel of Fort Bragg Public Affairs.

martha.quillin@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8989

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