Wednesday, March 23, 2005

TOP STORY>> Military looks to close bases bases

LRAFB in good shape as another BRAC review gets underway

Leader staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base is well positioned to survive the next wave of base closings, officials say, but still…

The economic impact of Little Rock Air Force Base at Jacksonville upon central Arkansas in 2004 was over half a billion dollars, according to information released earlier this month, and the thought of losing the base could drive leaders into a cold sweat.

By May 16, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should have submitted his list of recommended closings to the Base Realignment and Closure (Brac) commission, with the commission’s final list due by Sept. 8.

The president and Congress then have until Nov. 7 to accept or reject the list, and communities across the country are waiting to see who’s on that list.

“I believe that Little Rock Air Force Base is in great shape as we head into this new round of base closings,” Cong. Vic Snyder said Tuesday. 

“The dedication of the new fire station on Monday is another example of the tremendous investment that has been made in the last few years.  There is great community support for this base of which the Air Force is very much aware. 

“I am also very pleased that former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi has been named head of the (Brac) commission.  He is a Vietnam veteran and a fine man, a real straight-shooter known for his sense of fair-play,” Snyder said.
“Everybody says Little Rock Air Force Base is safe,” said Sen. Mark Pryor on the 50th anniversary of the base.

Cautioning against too much optimism, Pryor said, “That scares me. We’ll redouble our efforts to promote the base. People at the Air Force and Pentagon say the base is in good shape. It has a proven track record. But I’ll continue to push behind the scenes.”

“I don’t want to seem over confident, but we can compete with any base in the world,” said Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim Monday at the dedication of the base’s new fire station. He’s serving his second term as head of the base Community Council. “We’ll score high.”

Swaim said a number of states, including Florida, California and Mississippi, had hired lobbyists, including former military and former congressmen. To help keep its bases, Mississippi has spent $900,000, the mayor said.

While others had hired expensive lobbyists, Swaim said he and three or four others had traveled a lot of miles the last couple of years promoting the base.

“We have good contacts. We felt that because we know officials, we know how to sell the base. Others active in pressing the base’s case include Larry Wilson, Paul Latture and Carmie Henry, Swaim said.

The base’s unique role as trainer of all U.S. military C-130 pilots, crews and ground-crews would seem to ensure its continued existence, they say.

In recent years, the Air Force has spent millions of dollars preparing the base to also train crews for the new C-130J. In fact, the C-130J training center alone cost about $50 million.

Although the government may not buy any more of the new aircraft, people still have to fly and maintain those already purchased.

Over four previous rounds of closings, dating back to 1988, 97 bases have been closed, along with hundreds of smaller facilities, yielding savings of nearly $30 billion through 2003, according to a report in the New York Times.