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The Huntsville Times May 13, 2005

Redstone, city await word

By Shelby G. Spires

Pentagon to make list of closings known today

Community leaders Thursday were waiting expectantly for this morning's Pentagon recommendations on closing and consolidating military bases and how they could affect Redstone Arsenal.

Although there has been no official word on what may be ahead for Redstone, the Huntsville City Council Thursday night approved $100,000 to market the city to civil service employees elsewhere if their jobs are moved to Huntsville.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Link, co-chair of the city's committee to protect Redstone jobs, has said in recent weeks Redstone could lose a few jobs but also might see a net gain.

The Pentagon's recommendations will be sent to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and released to the public at 9:30 a.m. U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, and other members of Congress will get about an hour's advance notice of how Redstone Arsenal fares.

Shortly before the Pentagon's announcement, Cramer plans to hold a news conference at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce to discuss what he learns from this morning's congressional briefings.

Then he will join local officials at the chamber to watch Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's news conference announcing the Pentagon's BRAC recommendations. Redstone Arsenal officials plan a news conference at 1 p.m. to discuss the BRAC announcement and the potential effect on Redstone and the Huntsville community.

Rumsfeld announced last week this round probably wouldn't be as large as expected because of new plans to bring American military units home from Europe and Asia. Pentagon planners had pointed out that current military bases have an excess of 25 percent capacity, and there were rumors for months that the Pentagon wanted to close 100 or more installations in the United States.

The overcapacity figure has now shrunk to less than 12 percent, Rumsfeld said last week.

The announcement will be met with quiet activity on Redstone Arsenal, said Al Schwartz, spokesman for the Army Aviation and Missile Command.

"We at Redstone Arsenal and in the community have a very strong interest in what that list of recommendations contains," Schwartz said. "Many of us will follow the news and plan to watch the DoD (Department of Defense) press conference, but our primary focus remains on the soldiers we support. We are a nation at war and our first priority is to provide the weapons and spare parts that our service members need."

The amount of work moved in this Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, round might be insignificant, said John Pike, a military analyst with Globalsecurity.org.

"I think you'll see a couple of dozen bases closed or realigned that you never heard of before," Pike said. "I just don't see this being very large, but also that means the big gains a lot of (military communities) have expected may end up being just table scraps."

From 1988 to 1995, the military has closed 97 major bases and more than 200 minor bases and has realigned 145 military units, according to a Pentagon briefing Tuesday. The estimated savings for the previous BRAC rounds is nearly $17 billion through 2001.

As to speculation for this year's round, there is no way to pin this BRAC down using the history of other base closings and realignments, Pike said. Earlier military reductions made sense because the Cold War was over, but today a war on terror is raging and many don't see the need to close bases or fold up military units in the United States, he said.

During previous BRAC rounds, Pike said, "We were looking at force reductions, but now we have a force buildup due to the war," he said. "Even in the 1995 round they wanted to privatize logistics and maintenance facilities because industry wanted that work to compensate for the spending slow down that came at the end of the Cold War."

Given war-driven needs, why go through a BRAC round at all?

Pike believes the Bush administration may have overreached when outlining the need for this BRAC round. "They came in with a lot of loose talk about there being 25 percent overcapacity with military bases, and that's just not proven to be the case," Pike said. "Rumsfeld has worked overtime recently to lower expectations this will be a major round."

Locally, some Pentagon watchers have speculated that Redstone is in line to gain a major command, such as the Army Materiel Command, now based in Alexandria, Va. Army Materiel Command is the parent organization in charge of Redstone's Aviation and Missile Command.

Others have speculated that the Space and Missile Defense Command, based in Arlington, Va., could move its headquarters here. SMDC already has about 1,000 employees in Huntsville, and its commanding general, Lt. Gen. Larry Dodgen, is a past commander of AMCOM at Redstone.

Other radical Pentagon plans that have been floated would combine all military helicopter training at either Fort Rucker in South Alabama or at the Navy's helicopter training base at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. Also, Army, Air Force and Navy depots could all be shifted to one "super-depot," with work being done in a central, Midwestern location. AMCOM is responsible for some of the Army's aviation training.

Community leaders have expressed reserved optimism over what will be on the military list. U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said last month that "the work that is performed in Huntsville and amount of investment that goes into Redstone" shows the arsenal's importance to the Pentagon.

Redstone is certainly growing. Congress has funneled more than $200 million in construction to improve the base over the past five years with a modern, three-phase office complex for the Space and Missile Defense Command as well as other missile work conducted here.

Also, Army planners want to spend about $150 million to improve the munitions school and another $300 million to improve the airfield and build testing facilities there.


Copyright 2005, The Huntsville Times