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Pope Army Airfield History

Since its inception in September of 1918, Pope Army Airfield has had different names. Originally starting out as "the flying field at Camp Bragg," in March of 1919, it was designated as Pope Field by the U.S. War Department. When the U.S. Air Force came into being in 1947, a portion of Fort Bragg, which included Pope Field, was partitioned off and became Pope Air Force Base. This designation continued until March 1, 2011, when, in accordance with Congress' Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) law, Pope Air Force Base was reabsorbed by Fort Bragg and the airfield was redesignated as Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg.

Pope Army Airfield has played a leading role in the development of U.S. air power. Missions at Pope have ranged from providing airlift of materials and armed forces, to humanitarian missions flown all over the world. Pope Army Airfield is located on the Army's Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Today, the Airmen on Fort Bragg facilitate Airborne training of the 82d Airborne Division, train aircrews and medical personnel for deployments to combat operations in Southwest Asia, and train special operations personnel for unique missions across the globe.

Officially established by the War Department in 1919, Pope Army Airfield ranks as one of the oldest flying installations in the U.S. military. It is named after First Lieutenant Harley Halbert Pope who was killed on January 7, 1919, when the JN-4 Jenny he was flying with Sergeant Walter W. Fleming crashed into the Cape Fear River near Fayetteville, N.C.

Initially, balloons and single-engine biplanes were stationed at Pope. Their missions included terrain mapping, spotting for artillery and forest fires, as well as carrying the mail. The original operation was rather primitive by today's standards. The motor pool, for example, consisted of three vehicles and four driver mechanics. Aircraft were refueled using a hand-crank, which pumped a gallon of gas per turn. Although gas was less expensive at 23 cents per gallon, it was in short supply even then. During this period, the first transcontinental flight from Pope occurred. That round-trip flight to California involved 68 hours flying time and 40 refueling stops.

In December 1927, Pope played a role in the development of air tactics, which by some accounts, proved critically important in shortening World War II. Major Carl "Tooey" Spaatz led a squadron of bombers to Pope to test the feasibility of destroying bridges using aerial bombardment. Flying Keystone B-1 bombers, Spaatz' Airmen damaged a condemned bridge on the Pee Dee River 70 miles west of Fayetteville. Although there was significant damage done to the reinforced concrete bridge, it was determined that the bridge was repairable. This led to further development of bomber aircraft.

During the 1930s, the first major expansion of the facilities at Pope Field took place. Fleming Hall (building 374), the stucco government quarters and hangars three and four are reminders of this construction.

With the outbreak of World War II, the tempo of activities at Pope Field quickened. The airlift mission began with tactics and equipment developed to support it. Throughout the war, air and ground crews trained at Pope with units such as the 82D Airborne Division, in preparation for airborne and aerial resupply missions. The Fort Bragg drop zones -- Sicily, Normandy, Nijmegen, etc. -- are ringing reminders of the historic battles for which these units prepared.

In October 1954, the 464th Troop Carrier Wing transferred to Pope AFB as the base operating unit, and a major period of facility expansion followed. The main runway, the taxiways, and the ramp were all expanded to support the 464 TCW's C-119 Flying Boxcars. One of the more innovative missions of this period was the airdrop of 17 Caterpillar D-4 tractors into remote Arctic locations to be used to prepare ice strips for the Defense Early Warning System (DEW line) sites.

During the 1950s and 1960s aircraft upgrade was the primary trend at the North Carolina installation. The C-123 Provider started replacing the C-119 in 1958. In 1963, the first C-130 Hercules, a four-engine turboprop with a 17-ton payload and ability to operate from short, unimproved strips, greatly expanded the wing's airlift capability. This increased capability was soon demonstrated during the 1964 Belgian Congo Airlift, for which the 464th received the Mackay Trophy for "the most meritorious flight of the year."

As America became involved in Vietnam, the need to train large numbers of aircrews to take advantage of unique C-130 Hercules capabilities led to the establishment of an aircrew replacement training unit. Training gained at Pope and Fort Bragg immeasurably improved aircrew preparedness for combat duty. The drop zones, low-level routes, and dirt landing zones at Fort Bragg were considered important ways to familiarize many men bound for Southeast Asia with conditions they were likely to face once they arrived in Vietnam.

In August 1971, the 464th inactivated and the 317th Military Airlift Wing moved to Pope AFB. The move kept alive the name and colors of one of the most senior airlift units whose combat record was pre-eminent in the Air Force.

One of the most important roles of the 317th was its involvement in the development and testing of the sophisticated Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System (AWADS), which allows accurate airdrops through cloud cover and at night, thereby greatly expanding the environment in which airborne operations are possible. This system proved its worth in combat during Vietnam.

In 1983, the 317th took part in the invasion of Grenada. Pope AFB airplanes, air and ground crews provided the bulk of the Air Force effort in Grenada. The base served as the primary staging site for the operation code-named URGENT FURY. Just before dawn on October 25, 18 Pope C-130s airdropped and air landed elite Army Rangers onto the 10,000-foot, Cuban-built runway at Point Salines, Grenada. More than 650 Pope people deployed to the nearby Caribbean island of Barbados to establish a forward operating base and continuous tactical airlift shuttle service to the island. Operation URGENT FURY rescued about 700 American medical students.

On a daily basis, the personnel of the 317th flew people, equipment, and supplies all over the world to support the far-reaching military obligations of the United States. The wing took part in numerous Joint Chiefs of Staff exercises to develop and refine the skills required for rapid contingency response. The wing was often involved in humanitarian disaster relief and emergency evacuation of American Nationals from troubled areas of the world. Some of these operations included relief missions to the snow bound Northeast region of the United States during the winter of 1977. In 1979, the 317th brought assistance to the residents of the Caribbean whose homes were ravaged by hurricanes "David" and "Frederick." Also in 1979, the 317th was involved with the evacuation of personnel from Iran.

In March 1984, Pope AFB sent help to disaster victims in its own backyard. When killer tornadoes struck throughout southern North Carolina, the base sent more than 200 volunteers to assist with clearing efforts, to provide communications and medical assistance, to distribute food, water, tents and clothing, and to direct traffic. When Hurricane Hugo devastated the southern states in the Fall of 1989, the 317th, itself barely missed by Hugo as it passed, once again responded to help those in need.

Pope Air Force Base hosted the filming of comedian Bob Hope's U.S. Air Force birthday special in May 1987. The event was highlighted by a visit from President Ronald Reagan. That event, followed by the annual Military Airlift Command competition called "Airlift Rodeo," brought more than 30,000 visitors to the base.

In March 1988, the 317th Airlift Wing and Pope AFB supported the emergency deployment of the 82D Airborne Division from Fort Bragg to counter a military threat in Honduras. Within 18 hours of the Presidential decision to deploy forces, the wing loaded nearly 2,000 troops as well as 259 tons of cargo and equipment on C-141 Starlifter aircraft and launched them to Central America.

In December 1989, the 317th took part in conducting Operation JUST CAUSE. In the initial hours of Operation JUST CAUSE the 317th helped lead the airborne assault by transporting and airdropping the 82D Airborne Division on the Panamanian defense force base at Rio Hato. Following the initial surge, units from Pope AFB continued to play a key role in this operation as a major support base by completing 100 resupply missions, in which they transported 2,300 additional tons of cargo and 2,800 passengers. The base also supported the redeployment of 82D Airborne Division troops on January 13, 1990, as well as the aeromedical evacuation of those soldiers wounded in the operation. Nearly all of the 5,223 military and civilian employees at Pope AFB took part in, or supported, Operation JUST CAUSE.

During Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, the 317th transported more than 40,000 combat troops and nearly 65 million pounds of cargo into the Arabian Peninsula. Deployed Pope personnel and aircraft flew thousands of missions, repositioning and resupplying those troops during the course of the operation to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

Pope AFB underwent a major change June 1, 1992, as the 23D Wing "Flying Tigers" activated under the new Air Combat Command. The Wing consisted of the 74th Fighter Squadron, which flew the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the 75th Fighter Squadron, which flew A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II close air support aircraft, and the 2nd and 41st Airlift Squadrons, which flew the C-130E Hercules. The activation of the 23D as a composite wing at Pope began a new era of support for Fort Bragg's XVIII Airborne Corps and 82D Airborne Division.

In April 1997, Pope once again saw changes that involved streamlining all stateside airlift operations under Air Mobility Command--including C-130s. The changes resulted in the activation of the 43d Airlift Wing as the host wing at Pope AFB under the Air Mobility Command. Other changes included the departure of F-16s and the arrival of more A-10s for the 74th Fighter Squadron. The A-10s were placed under the 23D Fighter Group as an Air Combat Command unit, a tenant at the base. The 43d AW supported one of the Air Force's six core competencies -- Rapid Global Mobility -- outlined in "Global Engagement: A Vision for the Twenty-First Century Air Force."

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the 43d deployed in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. In March 2003, the Wing deployed in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. Operation IRAQI FREEDOM consisted of the largest special operations force since the Vietnam War and allowed Pope Airmen to work with other forces from across the globe.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall near Buras, Louisiana. The 43d sprang into action by deploying airmen to help with the disaster relief effort. Exemplifying their motto "Always the 1st" the 43d Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron was the first Pope AFB unit to respond by sending personnel to help rescue or evacuate hurricane victims. The 3d Aerial Port Squadron worked tirelessly through the long Labor Day weekend loading 1,983 passengers, 1,240 short tons of cargo, and 30.7 short tons of baggage.

In early 2006, Pope Air Force Base units began the process to comply with Congress' Base Realignment and Closure act. The act mandated that Pope Air Force Base be realigned under Fort Bragg. Additionally, the law outlined changes in the structure and relationships of remaining Air Force units at Fort Bragg. The 23d Fighter Wing moved to Moody Air Force Base, GA, the 43d Airlift Wing inactivated and the 43d Operations Group was redesignated the 43d Airlift Group. The 2d Airlift Squadron and the 43d Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron were associated with the Air Force Reserve's 440th Airlift Wing (which moved from Milwaukee, WI to Pope in 2007) as part of the nascent Total Force Integration effort to maximize Air Force resources. Also in 2007, as part of the BRAC process, the 41st Airlift Squadron began transferring from Pope Air Force Base to Little Rock Air Force Base. On February 28, 2011, a major portion of the BRAC process was completed as Pope Air Force Base was renamed Pope Army Airfield and returned to Fort Bragg as part of a huge ceremony that also included inactivations and redesignations of the various units affected by the law.

On January 12, 2010, a major earthquake, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck the island country of Haiti. The natural disaster caused significant destruction with extensive injuries and death. The Army's Global Response Force was tasked to deploy to Haiti to aid the devastated country. Within the first 100 hours of the Operation UNIFIED RESPONSE, the official name assigned to the relief effort, the Air Force, through the Airmen at Pope, loaded and deployed more than 91 aircraft to deploy the 82d Airborne Division forces needed on the island. By the end of the major portion of the operation on January 22, Team Pope was responsible for 35 percent of Air Mobility Departures to Haiti as well as handling 76 percent of the passengers and 60 percent of the cargo delivered to the island nation.