Pope AFB (Pope Field), NC Image 1
    Pope AFB (Pope Field), NC Image 2

    Pope AFB (Pope Field), NC History

    Pope Field was and is the airfield at Fort Bragg Army Base, but it spent sixty-four years as an independent Air Force Base.

    Pope Field was originally simply the airfield for Camp Bragg, established 1918 as an artillery field range; the airstrip was added in 1919, and named for 1st Lt. Harley Halbert Pope, killed in a crash into the Cape Fear River. Camp Bragg was redesignated Fort Bragg in 1922. The air units at Camp/Fort Bragg were assigned to artillery spotting training, forest fire spotting, photographing terrain for mapping, and airmail service.

    The 1930s saw an expansion of air facilities at Fort Bragg as the Air Corps expanded in response to events in Europe and Asia. Pope Field hosted 535 aircraft in 1935, as part of large scale aerial practice maneuvers, and in 1940 the earth runways were paved. Fort Bragg had 5,600 personnel overall in 1940; in 1941 this had swelled to 67,000, and reached a peak of 159,000 during World War Two. Pope Field was kept hustling with air artillery spotting practice, as Fort Bragg had become a major training center for infantry and armor, notably the 9th Infantry Division, the 100th Infantry Division, the 82nd Airborne Division, and a number of artillery units. The 82nd Airborne, particularly, made heavy use of Pope Field for airdrop training; this unit went on to famous airdropped campaigns in Sicily, Salerno, Normandy, and the Netherlands, as well as a key combat role in the Battle of the Bulge.

    Pope Field became Pope Air Force Base in 1947, with the creation of the US Air Force, initially the home base of the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, an air-based photographic scouting unit. The 10th TRG worked in close cooperation with Army units at Fort Bragg until it was inactivated in 1949, due to budget restrictions. Immediately on the heels of the 10th was the 4415th Air Base Group, which mainly concerned itself with training Forward Air Controllers, practical operating experience with FAC having largely been lost with the close of World War Two. Pope units were soon dispatched to duty in the Korean War. Unfortunately, these units were inactivated after the war, and FAC experience once again dispersed.

    Pope Field returned to an airdrop mission in 1954, with the relocation of the 464th Tactical Carrier Wing, a unit which usually had one or two squadrons deployed overseas in support of various operations over the next fifteen years, in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. One of the most famous operations of the 464th was Operation Red Dragon, both rescue missions to withdraw hostages of Congolese revolutionary forces. The 464th itself was inactivated in 1971 and replaced with 317th Tactical Airlift Wing, which was housed at Pope until 1992. During their assignment at Pope, units of the 317th were deployed to Operations Just Cause, Urgent Fury, and Desert Storm.

    The close of the Cold War shifted many Air Force resources, and the 317th TAW was blended with the 23rd Fighter Wing, creating the 23rd Wing, which remained at Pope until 2006, before be relocated to Moody AFB, which occurred in stages over the next few years. In 2011 Pope AFB was inactivated and was renamed Pope Field again, transferred to Fort Bragg, now housing and hosting the 43rd Airlift Group, once again bringing Bragg back to its airborne roots. The 43rd airlifts Fort Bragg troops around the world in support of the Global War on Terror.