Wednesday, August 24, 2005

TOP STORY >> General to BRAC: Closings essential

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville-area officials and local airmen can’t be blamed if they keep a close eye on C-SPAN2 between now and Saturday, as the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission decides—on television—the probable fates of Little Rock Air Force Base and other military bases across the country.

The commission votes on the closing or scaling down of 62 major military bases and hundreds of smaller bases this week. The votes will come in hearings scheduled for Wednesday through Saturday, which will be aired live on C-SPAN2. Little Rock stands to gain as many as 60 C-130s and 3,898 new jobs if the commission endorses Pentagon recommendations on base realignment.

After two months of hearings conducted around the country, where officials lobbied to keep their bases open or maintain or increase their missions, the Pentagon last weekend had its final arguments detailing its recommendations and associated savings in cost and efficiency.

During the weekend testimony of the Pentagon, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper said that while many of the decisions related to base closures are “gut-wrenching,” the changes are needed to allow the Air Force to continue to transform to meet the war-fighting demands of the 21st century.

“The decision to close many of these bases is very personal to me,” he said. “Many of us will feel the impact of decisions.
“I lived at many of these bases as a kid while my dad was coming up through the ranks. The Air Force has experienced BRAC rounds in the past, with the most recent occurring in 1995 after the Air Force shrunk by 200,000 Airmen.

“The recommendations today are proactive. This round doesn’t only accommodate planned reductions. Instead, it allows us to reset our force, anticipate challenges and establish organizations we need for the future.”
While leaders of Little Rock Air Force Base’s community council lobbied hard over the past couple of years and said all along they were “cautiously optimistic,” Jackson-ville Mayor Tommy Swaim, brothers Mike and Larry Wilson and others said they were delighted when the base not only survived the cut list, but was instead recommended for the additional missions.

The local developers say they will build homes and apartments to allow the base to double its personnel and Metroplan and the state Highway and Transportation Department have given higher priority to road and intersection projects that would help minimize additional congestion that could be caused by the proposed influx of new airmen and civilian workers.

The commission must make its recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8, and the president has two weeks to approve or reject those recommendations in their entirety, Con. Vic Snyder’s staff said Tuesday.
If the president approves the recommendations, they go to congress, where, unless the entire recommendation is rejected, it becomes law after 45 days, they said.

The general also said the BRAC recommendations were made with a single, total force — active, Guard and Reserve — in mind and not just as a combination of individual components or representatives.

“The Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve are integral parts of the Air Force,” General Jumper said.
“Maintaining an optimal mix of manpower and missions among components is key to their continued relevance and critical to their contribution to the finest Air Force in the world.”