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The Times Herald May 06, 2005

Selfridge future unclear

Officials: 'Jointness' of base should bar closing

By Katherin Hutt Scott
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON- As the Pentagon finalizes a list of military bases it wants to close or realign this year, members of Michigan's congressional delegation are optimistic Selfridge Air National Guard Base will be spared.

The Harrison Township base satisfies an important Pentagon goal of having various branches of the military train and work together, they said.

Defense- industry analysts disagree about whether Selfridge's "jointness" is enough to keep the base off the list, which the Pentagon must release by May 16.

Selfridge employs 1,308 civilians and 329 active-duty military personnel, making it the largest employer in Harrison Township and the 10th largest in Macomb County, according to the county government.

In addition, 3,280 reservists and Guard members train at the base, which is home to the Michigan Air National Guard's 127th Wing and the U.S. Air Force Reserve's 927th Air Refueling Wing. Also at the base are detachments from the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

The office of Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, describes Selfridge as "a model of jointness."

Scott MacFarlane, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a Harrison Township Republican whose husband, Donald, once was the base commander at Selfridge, said, "We're confident that it's positioned well, not only because it has a variety of military people there, but because the facilities have been upgraded recently."

Miller, who took office in 2003 and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, claims credit for securing $23 million in federal dollars to build a joint medical facility, a joint training facility for security guards and a visitors center on the base.

Levin's office said the senator has secured federal dollars to keep Selfridge's equipment and infrastructure modern, so the base is valuable to the military.

"That isn't something you can do the year before (a Base Realignment and Closure round)," Levin spokeswoman Tara Andringa said.

"It's something you need to work on year in and year out, and (Levin) has been doing that."

The Pentagon will like the jointness aspect of Selfridge, but there are other considerations, said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute in Washington.

First, the Air Force wants to reduce its number of Reserve bases because it is shrinking its number of combat units, he said. Today's wars are being fought more with helicopters and ground troops than with jet airplanes, he said.

Also, Selfridge is a relatively small base, and it's cheaper to close small bases and move their units elsewhere, Thompson said.

Finally, the military tends to prefer Republican-dominated states where the congressional delegation has traditionally supported military budgets, Thompson said, adding, "Michigan has become a hard sell with the American military."

On the other hand, defense- policy expert John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, said Selfridge likely will survive because it wouldn't be easy to move the many Guard and Reserve members who train there.

"All those Guard and Reserve people have real jobs and real lives in Michigan, and they just do this in their spare time," Pike said.

The Pentagon, which wants to eliminate as much as 20% of excess capacity in domestic military bases, will produce a list of recommended closures and realignments.

An independent, nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission will review the list, make changes and give President Bush a final list in September.

None of the commissioners has any obvious ties to Michigan.

 


Copyright 2005, The Times Herald