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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 14, 2005

Base closings roil U.S.

Pentagon wants to shut 33 major bases in 22 states

By Jack Kelly

The Pentagon yesterday proposed sweeping changes in its network of military bases to save money and improve coordination among the services, including the closing of 33 major bases in 22 states.

The recommendations to the Base Realignment and Closure commission immediately set off a scramble among local officials and members of Congress to save facilities in their areas.

Among the proposed closures are the 911th Military Airlift Wing adjacent to Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon, the Charles E. Kelly Support Facility in Collier and the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron in Johnstown. The Army's 99th Regional Readiness Command in Moon would not be closed, but would lose more than 200 jobs.

Altogether, 448 installations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam would be affected, including the closure of the Navy's submarine base in New London, Conn., and Air Force bases in North Dakota, South Dakota and New Mexico. In Pennsylvania, 13 installations would be closed, five would grow, and six would be realigned.

The domestic closings and realignments, along with those proposed for overseas facilities, would save $64.2 billion over the next 20 years, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

The changes would consolidate functions now performed at various bases and encourage greater cooperation and coordination among the services. The finance offices of all the services, for instance, would be brought together in Indianapolis. The Walter Reed Army Hospital in the District of Columbia would join the Navy's flagship hospital in Bethesda, Md. Military headquarters that had bases of their own will be linked with others.

The proposed closings also would accelerate a trend of the last 40 years that has stripped most military bases from the Northeast.

The Pentagon recommendations now go to the nine-member base closure commission, headed by former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi. This summer, the commission will study the recommendations, inspect the bases proposed for changes and hold public hearings. In September, it will present its findings to President Bush.

The president can approve or disapprove base commission recommendations, but he cannot amend them. If he approves, Congress then would have 45 days during which it could veto the recommendations but not change them. If Congress were to take no action, the commission proposals would become law.

Every previous base commission has altered Pentagon recommendations, and Congress has never vetoed a commission plan. The previous commission plans -- adopted in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 -- resulted in 97 major closings, 55 major restructurings and 235 "minor actions," which have saved taxpayers more than $40 billion, according to the Defense Department.

More bases have been proposed for closing in this round than in any of the preceding four.

The 911th at Pittsburgh International Airport is an Air Force Reserve wing that flies the C-130 tactical airlifter. The 911th has been based in Moon since 1942 but didn't begin flying the C-130 until 1980.

Currently, 1,220 Air Force reservists are assigned to the base, at which 320 civilians also work. The Air Force expects that closing the base will eliminate 44 military and 278 civilian jobs, at a cost to the local economy of about $93.6 million each year.

The Charles E. Kelly Support Facility in Collier, named for a World War II Medal of Honor winner from Pittsburgh, provides logistical support -- chiefly vehicle maintenance -- to active and reserve Army units in the middle Atlantic region. It includes a transportation office that arranges for travel for Army reservists to and from active duty, and for the shipping of soldiers' household goods overseas. Closing it would eliminate 174 military and 136 civilian jobs, the Pentagon said.

Loss of the Johnstown Marine unit would cost 85 full-time active-duty military jobs, which would be relocated to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, and 45 reservists. No civilian jobs would be affected.

The Defense Department had recommended closing the Kelly facility in the 1995 round of base closings, but the base commission did not agree.

The Pentagon yesterday also recommended "realigning" the 99th Regional Readiness Command of the Army Reserve, one of the units supported by the Kelly facility. The 99th, headquartered in Moon, supervises more than 20,000 Reserve soldiers in 185 units in five states and the District of Columbia.

The Defense Department estimates that the realignment of the 99th will cost 119 military and 101 civilian jobs, but Maj. Greg Yesko, a command spokesman, said the number of jobs might actually increase. "We don't know yet what realignment means," he said. "It could mean cuts. It could also mean that our area of responsibility will be expanded."

Currently, 125 full-time and 725 part-time soldiers as well as 154 civilians work at the 99th headquarters. The Army estimates that it contributes about $100 million to the local economy each year.

If all the recommendations for Pennsylvania are adopted, the state would lose 1,435 military jobs and 429 civilian jobs over six years.

The state hardest hit is Connecticut, which would lose 7,133 military and 1,041 civilian jobs, chiefly as a result of closing the submarine base at New London.

Taking the biggest proportionate hits would be North and South Dakota. North Dakota would lose 2,290 military and 355 civilian jobs as a result of closing the bomber wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base. South Dakota would lose 3,287 military and 411 civilian jobs from closing Ellsworth AFB near Rapid City.

Other major installations slated for closing are Cannon AFB in New Mexico; the naval shipyard in Portsmouth, Maine; Fort Monroe, Va., home of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command; and Fort McPherson, Ga., home of the Army's Forces Command.

The biggest base closure recommended for Pennsylvania is the naval air station at Willow Grove, Montgomery County, which would cost 865 military and 362 civilian jobs. Other state installations slated for closure are the Engineering Field Activity Northeast in Bristol, Bucks County; the Navy Crane Center in Lester, Delaware County; the Navy-Marine Corps reserve center in Reading; and Army reserve centers in Norristown, Scranton, Bloomsburg, Williamsport and Chester.

The U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks in Cumberland County, thought by many to be on the hit list, escaped.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said he was "saddened" by the base commission recommendations. He visited the 911th and the naval air station at Willow Grove yesterday to assure civilian workers and reservists there that he would continue to fight for their jobs.

The local cuts "are not welcome news for a region already hit hard" by US Airways layoffs, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said at a news conference yesterday with Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods. They pledged to fight the recommendations before the commission.

But John Pike, of GlobalSecurity.Org, said: "I think the politicians are going to have a hard time getting these recommendations overturned. They seem pretty sensible."

Copyright 2005, PG Publishing Co., Inc.