This week Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced the closing of 33 large bases and the realigning of another 29 major facilities. Another 180 smaller installations will be closed or restructured. Significant closures and personnel reduction in US bases overseas is also a key part of the Rumsfeld plan. The closure and realignment proposal should save the government roughly $50 billion over the next twenty years.
As we move from the a cold war strategy to the threat of global terrorism the Pentagon is less likely to use facilities in the more isolated interior of country and more likely to deploy forces from the coasts. In addition, while the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have functioned separately in the past, they will be asked to operate seamlessly, often being deployed from the same base. The US military must be leaner, meaner, and more mobile than ever before.
Key proposed closures include the Navy’s submarine base in Groton, CT, Fort McPherson in Georgia, the Pascagoula Naval station in Mississippi and Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. The closure recommendations were sent to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), which will hold public hearings this summer before final closure decisions are enacted. In the past roughly 85% of the closure proposals reviewed by BRAC have resulted in closings.
Politicians in the communities most directly affected by the closings have already ramped up the rhetoric. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman attacked the plan to close the
Groton, CT submarine base saying, “It is cruel and unusual punishment that Connecticut does not deserve and our national security cannot afford.” Olympia Snowe the republican senator from Maine said of the proposal to close Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, “In arriving at these inexplicable decisions, the Defense Department and the Navy must have been operating in a fog so thick they couldn’t even see the facts in front of them.” Particularly vulnerable is newly elected South Dakota republican John Thune, who claimed that he would be more able to prevent the closing of Ellsworth Air Force Base than Tom Daschle, whom he defeated last November.
The base closings will devastate many local economies in the short run. Not only are military jobs lost, but also thousands of private sector workers are often employed at military bases. Moreover, the spending of military people and their families supports many private businesses. The process of economic recovery can take 15 years or longer but many communities experiencing closures in the past have recovered remarkably by diverting the facilities for private sector jobs. One example is Larson Air Force Base in Moses, Washington a supersonic bomber base that was closed in 1966. Today it boasts a 13,500-foot runway used for training by Japan Air Lines and Boeing. It also has industrial sites and a community college.
In this author’s opinion, despite the short run pain and protesting of politicians, the recommendations of BRAC should be implemented. The fact that the government is providing good paying jobs in a community is not an acceptable reason to keep a base open. Using that logic the federal government should open a base in every American community! We must remember that all government jobs are financed by private sector productivity; this isn’t manna from heaven! American taxpayers deserve efficiency from the federal government and our military should be no exception.