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Daily News-Miner July 2, 2005

BRAC panel questions Galena status

By Sam Bishop

WASHINGTON--The military base review commission has asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld why the nation should continue to maintain an airfield at Galena, a village on the middle Yukon River.

Base Realignment and Closure Commission Chairman Anthony Principi asked for an explanation of why the Pentagon hadn't proposed closing the Galena Air Force Station in its May 13 recommendations in a letter sent Friday to Rumsfeld.

The commission must ask for such an explanation before it can recommend closing a military installation that was not on the May 13 list. It also must have seven votes on the nine-member commission to add any such installation to the closure list.

Galena was one of 12 installations and subject areas for which the commission sought more information in the Friday letter.

Galena was home to an Air Force base during much of the Cold War but mostly closed during the mid-1990s. A long runway with some Air Force facilities remains.

Air Force public affairs officials could not be reached late Friday afternoon for information on Galena's current function.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington, D.C., group that offers detailed descriptions of U.S. military installations, Galena previously served as an alert base for F-15 fighters.

"Now military use is only occasional," according to the organization's Web site.

In questions attached to Principi's letter to Rumsfeld, the commission offered two questions and some observations.

Galena is one of two "forward operation locations" in Alaska, the commission noted. The other, which it didn't name, is at King Salmon on the Alaska Peninsula, according to GlobalSecurity.org.

The forward operation locations "serve as alert bases for air intercept aircraft in support of North American Aerospace Defense Command missions," the commission said.

"The requirement for maintaining two FOLs in Alaska may no longer be valid," the commission said. "The mission could be accomplished by maintaining one FOL and two Air Force bases in Alaska."

The two existing Air Force bases in Alaska are Eielson, just outside Fairbanks, and Elmendorf, just outside Anchorage. Both are slated for substantial reductions in jets and personnel under the Pentagon's May 13 recommendations to the Pentagon.

"Was any consideration given to merging the missions of Galena FOL, AK, and Eielson AFB, AK?" the commission asked in the letter.

The letter also asks why Marine Corps Recruit Depot and the Navy Broadway Complex, both in San Diego, Calif., and the U.S. Naval Shipyard at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, were not slated for closure.

It also questions the Pentagon's decisions to downsize, rather than close, the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine, Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Also, the letter asks for more explanation about the proposed reorganization of Air National Guard facilities across the country and the downsizing of several other small facilities.

The commission will conduct a public hearing on July 19 in Washington to decide whether bases left off the list should be added.

Bases, including any added to the list in July, can be removed from the list later, but the commission won't make those decisions until August.

The commission must send its revised list to the president in September. He must approve it in its entirety or send it back to the commission for more work. Once the president signs off, the list goes to Congress, which must accept it or reject it as a whole.

The Pentagon says it will save $49 billion over 20 years by streamlining services across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and shutting down bases deemed inefficient.

On Friday, the Government Accountability Office released a report that found upfront costs will total $24 billion and questioned the Pentagon's projected savings.

"We believe the recommendations overall, if approved, would produce savings," the report said. However, it added, "there are clear limitations associated with the projected savings, such as the lack of military end-strength reductions and uncertainties associated with other savings estimates."

The report said the Pentagon claims eliminating jobs held by military personnel would make up about half of the annual recurring savings. However, the GAO said, much of that money won't be available for other uses because the jobs--and salaries--simply will be relocating to other areas.

"Without recognition that these are not dollar savings that can be readily applied elsewhere, this could create a false sense of savings available for other purposes," the report said.

Alaska's congressional delegation and the local Save Eielson task force has made the same point in criticizing the Pentagon plan.

The GAO also questioned how the military came up with the $2.8 billion savings over 20 years--the most of any recommendation--associated with the Eielson changes.

"While the Air Force plans to give up the base family housing, it appears that all other base facilities would be retained," the GAO states. "For example, Air Force ... data indicates that there will be no reduction in the square feet of facilities. The data also indicates that 64 percent of the facilities will be sustained at current funding."

The GAO report noted that Fairbanks community is one of six nationwide that "face the potential for a fairly significant impact" from the recommendations.

However, several GAO reports on earlier base closure rounds have found that "while some communities surrounding closed bases were faring better than others, most have recovered or are continuing to recover."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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