Although the aircraft and airmen have long since left Milwaukee, the 440th Airlift Wing Community Council is still going strong, even catching a recent glimpse of the 440th's new base of operations.
The council is a nonprofit organization that acts as a liaison between the base and the community. Comprised primarily of former military veterans and metro-Milwaukee residents, it helps raise awareness throughout the area of the activities and accomplishments of the 440th and advocates on their behalf.
"I don't think a lot of people back in Milwaukee realize the role the 440th serves," said New Berlin resident Larry Myers, a council member who is also pastor of Elm Grove Lutheran Church in Elm Grove. "I do see an expanded role for the council moving forward."
Base of operations
The 440th wing's former home, General Mitchell Air Reserve Station at Gen. Mitchell International Airport, was closed four years ago due to recommendations outlined by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The wing, as well as its 440th name, was relocated to Pope Field, N.C., in fall 2007.
But the 440th maintains a presence in the Milwaukee area, both in terms of the ongoing efforts of the community council and the local reservists who serve in the wing. More than 100 reservists commute monthly from Milwaukee to North Carolina onboard a C-130 Hercules cargo plane for drill training.
To help gain a better understanding of the wing's role within the Air Force and to take an up-close look at its new home, 11 people from the community council traveled to Pope Field last weekend for a tour of the base and to learn how local airmen are performing in the Tar Heel state.
The two-day trip to North Carolina included accompanying reservists on Saturday to the wing's annual summer picnic and a windshield tour of Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. Army bases in the world. Fort Bragg is connected to Pope Field.
"I never realized just how big Fort Bragg was," said Jim Keck of Wauwatosa. "For me this was an intelligence-gathering mission. I wasn't too familiar with the wing when it was up in Milwaukee. There are a lot of viable careers here, and I do plan to share my experiences from this tour with people back home."
Fort Bragg has the larger footprint of the two bases, measuring about 250 square miles. Together, they employ more than 50,000 military and civilian personnel. And in the coming years those numbers are expected to jump to more than 75,000 people stationed and working at Fort Bragg and Pope Field.
Seeing the 440th's role
The 440th Airlift Wing flies C-130 cargo aircraft, and its mission is to transport equipment, supplies and personnel in support of wartime and humanitarian operations around the world.
On Sunday, the group of community council members learned about the aeromedical evacuation mission at Pope Field and how those airmen transport the wounded from the battlefield and care for them aboard C-130 aircraft. Other stops included aircraft maintenance and an assumption of command ceremony.
They also received a mission briefing from Col. Merle D. Hart, commander, 440th Airlift Wing. He gave an overview of the wing's history and explained the role his airmen play in the Air Force and in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Additionally, when the wing relocated to Pope Field, it became the first reverse associate flying wing in the Air Force. This means that the 440th owns the aircraft stationed at Pope Field and provides operational direction for all active duty and Reserve C-130 flying operations at Pope.
Linda Ryan, and her husband, Dennis, were impressed by the partnership between the Army and Air Force.
"The 440th's mission is the same down here as it was up in Milwaukee, but to me it has a much broader scope when you factor in working with the Army," said Ryan, a Milwaukee County supervisor from 1996 to 2002.
"The wing does so much more than just freight transportation; I think it's our role to help the public understand what the Reserve component does in the Air Force," added Dennis Ryan.
The council flew home Sunday night on the regularly scheduled airlift flight with about 60 local reservists. Greg Molthen, a long-time business owner in South Milwaukee and an Oak Creek resident, said he didn't realize the sacrifice and time away from home that Wisconsin-based reservists put in to serve with the 440th.
"Rest assured, for what we're asking our military to do for our country here and overseas, we have the right men and women doing the job," he said.
Freelance reporter Steve Staedler is a member of the 440th Airlift Wing.
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