US base supporters prepare to fight for jobs
Defiant communities around the United States are gearing up to fight a sweeping Pentagon plan to close scores of military bases, hoping to save the jobs, tax revenue and prestige that come with them.
Their chances are not good, if previous base-closure rounds are any guide: About 85 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations have survived unaltered by an independent commission, which will scrutinize the list in the coming months before sending it to Congress and President Bush.
For Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the proposed base closings and realignments are part of his plan to transform the military into a leaner, more cost-effective force. Once-distinct lines separating the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are blurring. Tens of thousands of troops in Europe and East Asia are expected to come home.
To some degree, the military would also move south and west, where land is cheaper and more available, and, as it happens, voters generally more Republican. Also closing are scores of small Reserve and National Guard facilities, part of a move to consolidate those forces.
Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute, a private military think tank, called the closures announced Friday "mercy killings."
Among major moves:
_The submarine base at Groton, Conn., would close and send its attack subs to Norfolk, Va., and Kings Bay, Ga. The Pentagon predicted the move will cost the area 15,000 jobs, just under 10 percent of those in the local economy.
"We've invested millions of dollars in that base, but more important, the military has also made huge investments," Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell argued in opposition. "You don't put $300 million into a base and walk away from it."
_The F-16 fighter planes at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, N.M., would be transferred to other bases around the country, and the dusty town on the Texas-New Mexico line would lose about 20 percent of its jobs.
"It would rip a big whole in eastern New Mexico to have Cannon closed," said Rep. Tom Udall, the Democrat who represents the area. He and other New Mexico officials vowed to fight, selling Cannon to commissioners as a vital base situated in the middle of wide-open flying country.
_The B-1 strategic bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D., would move to the other B-1 base, Dyess, near Abilene, Texas, taking thousands of jobs with them.
There was bitter resolve in Rapid City, jubilation in Abilene. "This is the first inning of an extra-inning game," said Pat McElgunn of the Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce. In Texas, Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer said: "The Abilene community has worked so hard for so long in support of Dyess. Today, we are seeing all that hard work pay off."
_The Army would close Fort Monroe, Va., built in the early 1800s on the site of various fortifications that date back to 1609, when the British erected defenses to protect the approaches to the Jamestown colony. Its main tenant, the Training and Doctrine Command, would be moved to Fort Eustis, Va.
_The venerable Walter Reed hospital in Washington would shift staff and services to the Navy's national medical center in nearby Bethesda, Md., to create a new, expanded facility with neither service's name attached. Other military medical functions would consolidate at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Besides the 33 major bases that would be closed, 29 would shrink in size and lose 400 or more jobs. Four of those are Navy facilities in California, including Naval Base Coronado. Fort Knox, Ky., would not close but would lose 4,867 military positions while gaining 1,739 civilian jobs.
While the Pentagon plan calls for a net loss of 29,005 military and civilian jobs at domestic installations, some places stand to gain as positions at closed bases shift to posts that survive.
President Bush's home state of Texas could gain more than 9,000 military jobs, primarily in El Paso and San Antonio, even while losing four major installations and several smaller ones. Florida, where the president's brother Jeb is governor, would add 2,575 jobs overall while losing none of its bases.