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The Arizona Republic May 14, 2005

State bases to stay open

Big bullet dodged, but 500-1,000 jobs may be lost

By Billy House, David Madrid and Jon Kamman

WASHINGTON - Arizona emerged as neither a big national winner nor a big loser Friday as the Pentagon proposed that none of the state's five major military bases be shut down, even as 33 major installations in other states were targeted for closure.

But the state would suffer less-dramatic "hits" under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's proposed changes, including changes at Glendale's Luke Air Force Base that could lead to the loss of as many as 278 there and an additional 274 contractor or other jobs in the Valley tied to the base.

The Air Force's Research Laboratory in Mesa also would see its functions relocated to Ohio, a move the Pentagon initially announced would lead to a loss of 42 military jobs and 46 civilian jobs. Later Friday, military officials said that when on-site and off-site contractors with the lab are included, the job loss from the closure could reach as high as 465.

Fort Huachuca, in Sierra Vista, also would see a reduction in manpower, losing 168 civilian jobs.

Still, those setbacks were seen as slight by state and local officials, given their anxiety during the past year about the chances that Luke, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson or the Army's Yuma Proving Ground might be in the Pentagon's sights for closure.

"I'm sure happy for Yuma," Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said, referring to the worries generated in his district by one early base-closure list circulated within Congress that had the Yuma Proving Ground as a target for closure. As it turned out, Rumsfeld proposed no changes for the proving ground.

When added with the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma and Fort Huachuca, the five main Arizona bases represent a total of 83,500 jobs and more than $5.6 billion in annual economic benefits to the state.

The Pentagon's proposal Friday would amount to between 550 and nearly 1,000 job losses to the state, depending on whether contracting jobs tied to bases are included.

Overall, Rumsfeld's proposals nationwide, including the realignment of 29 other major domestic bases and reorganization of 775 smaller installations, would generate a cut of more than 13,500 military jobs and just under $49 billion in savings over the next two decades. If approved, the proposed closings and other changes at installations could begin in two years and would have to be completed by 2011.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, who led the way in Congress in pushing for this latest round of base closings and reorganization, said, "I am extremely pleased that the (Defense) Department has recognized the positive impact of all Arizona bases to our national security . . . "

Gov. Janet Napolitano said Friday that she was "very, very pleased our bases are all protected." She noted that the loss of only 550 jobs out of 41,000 military positions in the state translates into a loss of just a little more than 1 percent.

"I think I can safely say, having met and talked with mayors for the past two years as we watched the (base closure) cloud coming, that around Arizona there are a lot of smiles today," she said.

Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., said Friday's announcement "shows, yet again, that Arizona's bases are vital to our national defense." Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said he was pleased "at this official acknowledgment that Arizona's military facilities are daily making vital contributions to the war on terror and the defense of our nation."

Added Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Arizona's only member on the House Armed Services Committee: "The truth is, this could have been a horrible day."

Arizona officials had worked feverishly to save their bases, ranging from Tucson passing in 2004 a $10 million bond referendum to assist with land acquisition around Davis-Monthan, to members of Arizona's congressional delegation working to secure $27.3 million in federal funding to acquire 2,100 acres and permanent easements around Luke.

The state's basic case: that Arizona's diverse and close-knit network of military facilities provides unparalleled high-quality, weather friendly, cost-effective training for the military. The argument also was made that Arizona's installations are a perfect fit for Rumsfeld's vision of a transformed modern military, in which different branches work together to form a "faster, lighter, smarter force."

But independent military analysts said all that may or may not have played a role in the Pentagon's eventual proposals for the state, given that 33 major bases (as defined by those with facilities worth $100 million or more) across the nation were targeted for closure in 22 other states.

But while it would escape a major closure, Arizona would not be among the 19 states to gain jobs under the plan.

"The good news is the state wouldn't lose much," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonpartisan defense and research organization. "The bad news is it wouldn't pick up much."

Defense Department officials insist their decisions were based largely on military value and better ways for the military services to pool resources.

The base closure list could be changed to include or exclude bases, though adding a base is rare. Still, Arizona leaders say they will remain vigilant and fight for their bases as a nine-member independent commission will consider Rumsfeld's recommendations through the fall. Rumsfeld will testify before the commission Monday.

The commission can change the list only if it finds that the Pentagon did not follow its criteria in deciding what to close. The criteria emphasized military value. The commission in September will present its recommendation to the president, who can approve or disapprove, on an all-or-nothing basis.

If President Bush accepts the report, Congress has 45 days after getting it from the White House to pass a joint resolution rejecting the recommendations. If lawmakers do not act, they become binding.

Retired Brig. Gen. R. Thomas Browning, who co-chaired Napolitano's military facilities task force, warned Friday, "This is round one of a fairly intense and complicated process, which is going to run for the next six to nine months . . . we need to be prepared as a state and a local community to question any losses whatsoever and also be prepared to defend ourselves from other states that have lost bases and attempt to argue their case.

But he, like Napolitano, said the state also should be looking for Arizona to try to pick up some of the more than 170,000 troops and their dependents returning to the United States as a result of the Pentagon's planned changes to overseas bases.

"We need to be thinking of our capacity at our bases," Browning said. "We could potentially see a net gain from all the draw-downs from overseas."

But in Mesa, officials were thinking of the proposed loss of the Air Force Research Laboratory, which would see its mission transferred to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, as part of an Air Force-wide realignment of labs.

Williams Gateway Airport spokesman Brian Sexton said the move could have a ripple effect on business throughout the East Valley.

At least 10 percent of the businesses at Williams Gateway Airport, he explained, work closely with the research lab. The airport itself is an economic development born out of Williams' Air Force Base closure in 1993. The former base is fast becoming the flight simulation capital of the world, featuring companies such as International Simulation and Training Systems, Advance Training Systems International and U.S. Positioning. All those companies work closely with the research lab, he said.

"All these people are specialized in this industry, and in the center of that is the U.S. Air Force Research Lab," Sexton said. "To take that out of it would have a crippling impact."

Sexton said there will be an aggressive effort from key political and business leaders to keep the lab in Mesa.



Reporter JJ Hensley a contributed to this article.


Copyright 2005, The Arizona Republic