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The Springfield News Leader May 8, 2005

Fort Wood expected to survive base realignment

Communities near U.S. military bases, including Fort Leonard Wood, hold their collective breath for Pentagon's list, to be issued later this week.

By Pamela Brogan

Washington, D.C. — Soldiers train hard so they don't need to depend on luck, but don't be too surprised if a few fingers are crossed at Fort Leonard Wood this week.

That's because later this week, the Pentagon is expected to give a nine-member commission the names of military bases targeted for closing or restructuring.

Officials are optimistic the U.S. Army's Fort Wood won't be on the list and could, as in previous Pentagon reviews, even prosper.

The Base Realignment and Closure commission will review the list and submit its recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8. He has until Sept. 23 to approve or reject the commission's report. If he rejects it, the commission must submit another report.

The commission's recommendations are aimed at shrinking the military's excess capacity by 20 to 25 percent to save taxpayers $7 billion annually.

Mike Alley, a spokesman for the base, located just over an hour's drive northeast of Springfield, declined to speculate on how the base will fare. But Rep. Ike Skelton, whose 4th Congressional District includes Fort Leonard Wood in Pulaski County, said he is optimistic the base won't be closed.

Skelton, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he believes the base would be a good home for some of the 70,000 troops and their families returning from Europe.

"It is possible that we could gain another school," Skelton said.

That's exactly what happened during the Pentagon's realignment in 1995.

The base functioned as the Army's training center for engineers before gaining the chemical and military police schools from Fort McClellan in Alabama.

All three schools now train Army and other service personnel who are fighting the war on terror. Bases that train all branches of the military, particularly to fight terrorism, are top priorities for the Pentagon this time.

Past decisions to expand bases like Fort Leonard Wood, however, do not mean the military will make similar decisions this time.

"I'm clueless about what they are going to do," said John Pike, a defense analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, a nonpartisan defense and research organization.

Referring to Fort Leonard Wood, Pike said, "I think it would be improbable that they would bust it up." But he said no base is safe.

"You could drop Fort Leonard Wood into Fort Hood (in Texas) and you'd never even notice it," he said.

Still, the Missouri base enjoys certain advantages in the current round of closures and reassignments, thanks to these operations at the base:

• The U.S. Army Chemical School, which trains military emergency officials to respond to chemical attacks that can cause mass destruction.

• The U.S. Army military police school, which trains more than 16,000 Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine personnel and civilians annually.

• The National Guard's 7th Civil Support Team, one of 10 units in the nation that responds to chemical, biological and nuclear threats.

The 1995 Pentagon decision brought nearly 3,000 new military trainees to the base, along with their families and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal spending for new training facilities and housing.

Base realignment timeline

May 16 — Deadline for the Pentagon to give Congress and the base-closing commission its list of recommended closings and realignments. The military could release the report earlier and is expected to do it later this week. Commissioners can delete or add facilities, but each change requires a majority of seven votes.

Sept. 8 — Deadline for the base-closing commission to give Bush a final report.

Sept. 23 — Deadline for Bush to accept or reject the report. If he rejects it, the commission must submit another.

Oct. 20 — Deadline for the commission to submit revised recommendations to the president.

Nov. 7 — Deadline for Bush to accept or reject the revised list. If he accepts it, the recommendations become binding 45 legislative days later. If he rejects it, the process ends without any bases being closed.

Standards for military bases

To help the Pentagon compile a list of bases to close or realign, each of the armed services is required to assess its bases on the following criteria:

• Ability to carry out current and planned missions, including a base's role in joint warfare or training and its effect on all military readiness.

• Availability and condition of land, facilities and associated airspace.

• Ability of a base and its community to receive a new mission when other bases are closed.

• Operational costs and manpower implications of closing a base.

• How fast the savings from closing a base can accrue.

• Economic effect on communities near military installations.

• Ability of communities' infrastructure to support forces, missions and personnel.

• Environmental problems with turning a base back to civilian use.

Source: Department of Defense

Who is Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood?

Born in 1860, Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood began his military career as a surgeon in the Apache Indian Wars.

Early in the Spanish-American War, he commanded the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the Rough Riders. Theodore Roosevelt, his second in command, became famous for leading the unit in the charge on San Juan Hill, and took over the unit when Wood was promoted.

From 1910 to 1914, Wood served as the Army's chief of staff, later before becoming governor general of the Philippine Islands, where he died in 1927.

News-Leader reporter Amos Bridges contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005, The Springfield News Leader, a Gannett Company