Pope Airfield in Fort Bragg, NC has been a pivotal piece of America’s effort to wage war since WWII. The airfield serves as an extremely vital tactical jump-off point for the 82nd Airborne and units of the Army Special Operations Command and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC): Delta Force uses it in case of a counterterrorism contingency anywhere in the world.

Inside the 82nd Airborne’s arsenal is the Immediate Response Force — capable of deploying worldwide, within 18 hours of being alerted, with the help of C-17 Globemasters. In January, these guys were put into action and flown to Kuwait, in case tensions between Iran and the United States flared into a conflict.

Pope Airfield was also used to deploy Paratroopers to Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, and Special Forces soldiers into northern Iraq in 2003.

Pope Airfield was owned by the Air Force until the Army took it over in 2011.

All this high-speed, low-drag war-fighting has taken a toll on the airfield over the years. Military officials have acknowledged that the airfield is in need of many repairs and could use some major updates, in order to continue to meet the mission and deliver barrel-chested freedom fighters to the doorstep of our enemies.

For years, prior to the Army absorbing Pope Airfield, top Air Force officials pleaded for funding to lengthen the airfield’s runway. The airfield is  7,500 feet long. At this length, an old-school C-130 has no problem taking off with a full load, but it is a completely different story for a C-17 or C-5.

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Adding an additional 3,000 feet of runway would allow a fully loaded C-17 to take off. For many, it was a no brainer to extend it. Pope Airfield is one of the shortest airfields in the Army’s inventory, although it was one of the most tactically valuable in the country. C-17s not taking off with a full load of fuel results in additional stops, costing millions of dollars and adding hours on to what is supposed be a rapid forward deployment. The runway extension was estimated to cost $50 million, but unfortunately, it never came to fruition. Evidently, lengthening the airfield has been low on the Army’s priority list.

Recently, an audit revealed that Fort Bragg’s Pope Airfield is one of the Army’s worst maintained facilities.

Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who also advocated for the lengthening the runway in 2016, stated, “These infrastructures serve as primary training airfields for USASOC, JSOC, and others, including the immediate response force.” He asked, “Is the Army adequately funding power projection and installation readiness?”

The Army Chief of Staff and the Army Secretary stated that funding has been allocated, claiming that “In [fiscal 2020] we have an approved project of $25 million for airfield lighting repair and in the [2021] budget, we plan to spend $65 million to repair the [Pope Army Airfield] runway and taxiways.”

The $90 million projected to be invested in the next two years is almost equivalent to the $115 million that has been spent since the Army took over Pope Airfield in 2011.

The Army head shed added that “Army Materiel Command is currently reviewing the full scope of additional requirements in support of this critical power projection platform as part of our comprehensive facilities investment strategy.”

Maybe they will lengthen that runway after all…