(Senate - April 19, 2016)

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[Pages S2135-S2136]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                           MILITARY READINESS

  Mr. TILLIS. Mr. President, I have the honor to represent the tip of 
America's spear--Fort Bragg, NC. Fort Bragg is the largest military 
installation in the United States, and it is the home to the most 
decorated combat forces of the military, the All-American Division, the 
82nd Airborne.
  The 82nd is a subordinate command of the XVIII Airborne Corps, 
America's Global Response Force. Whenever a threat occurs, units of the 
XVIII Airborne can be wheels up and on top of any target in the world 
in just 48 hours.
  In the 15 months that I have had the privilege to represent North 

[[Page S2136]]

in the Senate, I have made the readiness of the XVIII Airborne one of 
my top priorities. In fact, you would think it would be everybody's top 
priority, but I have watched budget cutters in the Air Force slowly 
chip away at the ability of the commanders at Fort Bragg to adequately 
train their paratroopers at Pope Army Airfield.
  This year, the Air Force began dismantling the one Air Force tactical 
unit at Pope--the 440th Airlift Wing--capable of providing daily and ad 
hoc support for Fort Bragg soldiers. I said at the time that the 
removal of the 440th created unreasonable risks to the readiness of 
critical airborne units. They must be prepared to respond to a range of 
contingencies in very short timeframes. I have pointed out repeatedly 
that the deactivation of the 440th comes at a time when the Nation is 
facing growing uncertainty and increasing threats abroad that could 
require a military response, and it is a response that only forces at 
Fort Bragg can fulfill.
  Over the last 7 years, the 440th has provided the Army with 
unparalleled support, tailored training opportunities without the 
tyranny of distance that comes through logistical, bureaucratic, and 
operational delays by having aircraft stationed somewhere other than 
Pope Army Airfield.
  The Air Force leadership stated that after any deactivation of the 
440th, out-of-State aircraft would support all airlift requirements for 
Fort Bragg units at Pope. The Air Force asked me to suspend disbelief. 
They told me to accept that it is more cost-effective for units to fly 
from Little Rock, AK, or McChord Air Force Base in Washington State and 
support Fort Bragg in North Carolina rather than having planes 
stationed at Fort Bragg.
  I did my best to ensure that the Air Force understood the Army's 
requirements, and I promised them that if they removed the 440th, I 
would be monitoring their progress and their ability to satisfy the 
Army's requirements for as long as I am in the Senate.
  The first warning signs that the Air Force was in trouble came in 
December at the annual Operation Toy Drop. Operation Toy Drop is the 
world's largest combined airborne operation at Fort Bragg. The drop is 
actually a daytime, nontactical, airborne operation supervised by 
foreign military jumpmasters. They view it as a rare treat to 
participate so that they can get jump wings from a foreign country.
  This year's operation was purposefully designed by the Air Force to 
prove to Congress--to prove to me--that they could support the training 
mission at Fort Bragg. To prove the point, the Air Force Reserve went 
so far as to reduce the 440th's role in the operation. However, when 
the Air Force planes could not get to Pope because of weather, 
mechanical, or other delays, the 440th had to step in and make up the 
deficit, as they have done so many times before.
  This is the real world in action. Bad weather and mechanical problems 
happen. The Air Force knows this exercise happens every year. They know 
it is highly visible. They knew they were under a microscope. Still 
they couldn't meet the requirement. In fact, during Operation Toy Drop, 
the 440th provided for about 40 percent of the chutes and 43 percent of 
the lift for the entire operation.
  Fort Bragg leadership has been clear to the Air Force in terms of 
their combat requirements, their training requirements at Fort Bragg. 
They have told the Air Force that they have to drop 10,000 paratroopers 
a month. Eight thousand drops a month is considered the bare minimum 
for the XVIII Airborne Corps. Sadly, the Air Force is not meeting those 
requirements. Only 6,100 paratroopers exited from Air Force planes in 
March. That is 1,300 fewer paratroopers dropped than in February, which 
is 77 percent of the 8,000 sustainable threshold and 61 percent of the 
Army's overall requirement. Where I went to high school, 61 percent was 
a D-minus, bordering on an F. They are failing.
  The Air Force has missed the Army's minimum jump requirements every 
month this year. These numbers are illuminating and concerning because 
in the Southeast, this is the best flying weather. January, February, 
and March have the best flying weather in the Southeast. What is going 
to happen when the Southeast thunderstorms and tornado season kicks in? 
If the Air Force can't meet Fort Bragg's need when the skies are clear, 
how is it going to do when the storm clouds gather?
  I hope the Air Force knows I have their back as a member of the 
Senate Armed Services Committee. But in this case, this is about 
fulfilling the Army's requirement. This is about me having the Army's 
back. This is about making sure the men and women who will be asked at 
a moment's notice to assemble on the Green Ramp at the Pope Army 
Airfield and go wherever they must go to defend freedom and save lives 
are at their highest state of readiness. But the performance to this 
point suggests that the Air Force is failing its customer service to 
the Army. No business in America would be able to dictate to the 
customer how and when they are going to get their product, but that is 
exactly what is happening with the Air Force's relationship with the 
Army--and they are failing.
  I will ask Senator McCain to inquire as to whether the Air Force 
expects to meet the needs of the Global Response Force. They haven't in 
this first quarter, and this is the first quarter that they were trying 
to transition to a Pope Army Airfield without the 440th. If they can't 
answer the question, then it is time for us to consider other options.
  Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.