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The Augusta Chronicle May 14, 2005

Relieved fort hopes for gains

By Jeremy Craig

Fort Gordon's future looks more secure after the release of the first proposed base-closure list, experts say.

But the Base Realignment and Closure process isn't over yet, with a long, hot summer of review by the BRAC commission still ahead.

And the possibility of new missions - which Augusta officials hoped to gain as a result of BRAC - isn't entirely clear yet.

"The List" that was passed around from congressional offices and to communities Friday was Appendix C of the first volume of the Defense Department's BRAC report. It specifically mentions bases that will be closed or realigned - that is, lose military population and missions to other bases but not be totally shuttered - and those that will gain missions as a result of the closures and realignments.

New missions at Fort Gordon would bring new jobs and more money into the Augusta economy.

Fort Gordon was not on that list. Nor was Fort Stewart, near Savannah, Ga.

"In the context of BRAC, BRAC simply passed you by," said John Pike, a defense analyst for Globalsecurity.org.

As a result, Fort Gordon will not necessarily gain any new missions directly from other bases.

But that could be a good thing, said Bob Hurt, a consultant for Hurt Norton and Associates, a defense consulting firm in the Washington, D.C., area.

"Fort Gordon is in very good shape because it's not in the BRAC mix," Mr. Hurt said. "You don't have a BRAC-related increase to defend."

Some experts, including Thom Tuckey of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon, have said they expect the losing communities on Friday's BRAC list to go on the defensive and possibly get testy, even nasty in attacking the communities that are due to get their missions.

Fort Gordon and the Augusta area are thus spared such conflict, Mr. Hurt said.

Rather than attack other installations, "the community kept the moral high ground" before Friday's announcement, Maj. Gen. Janet Hicks said Friday after the Pentagon's list was released.

"I'm very proud of this community," she said.

In getting new missions and attracting defense-related industry, Larry DeMeyers, the chairman of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon, said that it would continue to try to take "the high road."

"We want to position ourselves as a growth base," Mr. DeMeyers said. "But we don't want to look like we're trying to steal someone else's missions."

ONE INSTALLATION ON the Pentagon's list that officials have said Fort Gordon could gain personnel from is Fort Monmouth, N.J. That fort, which the Defense Department wants to close, was the home of the Army's Signal School from 1917 until 1974, when it was moved to Fort Gordon and designated as the Signal Center - the home of the Signal Corps.

However, the New Jersey post remained the center for the Communications Electronics Command and a research and development center for communications and electronics technologies.

To Augusta officials, Fort Gordon would seem to be a logical location for Fort Monmouth's missions.

But the Pentagon's detailed recommendations for closure and realignment - a file of more than 300 pages - would move Fort Monmouth's R&D activities - and others at Fort Belvoir, Va.; Fort Knox, Ky.; and Redstone Arsenal, Ala. - to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., which already has a large range and test facility.

Other functions would be scattered to other installations.

Consolidating R&D functions at fewer installations "achieves efficiency and synergy at a lower cost than would be required for multiple sites," the Pentagon says, and helps because test and evaluation facilities for those new technologies would be close by.

Maj. Gen. Hicks said Fort Gordon stands ready to accept new missions, from wherever they might come, and has the room to do it.

Frank Norton, also a defense consultant for Hurt, Norton and Associates, said that with the expansion of the intelligence missions at the National Security Agency's Gordon Regional Security Operations Center, the post is likely to pick up more personnel, along with other signal units.

Personnel gains could also be achieved from force realignments in Europe.

Only about 13,000 out of 70,000 troops have been identified as going to specific installations, Mr. Tuckey said.

Homes will have to be found for the rest, he said, and Fort Gordon could accommodate some of them.

FRIDAY'S LIST FROM the Pentagon, though not final, was seen as very important to Fort Gordon's fate.

According to the U.S. Army Base Realignment and Closure Division, about 85 percent of bases making the Pentagon's initial list in prior BRAC rounds made the final one.

The likelihood of getting off this year's Pentagon list is seen as even harder than before because of the way the rules have changed.

The only way to successfully challenge the Defense Department's decision to close a base is to challenge the data used to make the decision, Mr. DeMeyers and others involved with BRAC have said.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Philip K. Browning, the head of the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee, said before Friday's list was released that the group was planning on getting subgroups together for Georgia bases listed for closure, specifically to challenge the Pentagon's data.

The nine-member BRAC commission must have seven votes to add a base to the closure list, and at least two commissioners have to visit to the affected installation.

THE COMMISSION is now the focus of BRAC activities until September, when it must submit its recommendations to President Bush.

The commission starts hearings Monday with testimony from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other Defense Department officials.

Other commission hearings are expected to take place throughout the summer and around the country.

Even if the president gives his approval, there's still a chance the whole thing could come unraveled: Congress can pass a joint resolution of disapproval within 45 days of Mr. Bush's OK.

It's not inconceivable that some members of Congress would try to derail the process - they already have tried. Before 2005, there were several attempts to modify BRAC law, which would have scuttled the process or postponed it. Each effort failed.

U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., put a hold on the president's nominations to the BRAC commission, forcing the president to install them through recess appointments.

And though the commission's work will officially end by April 2006, that doesn't mean another round of base closures couldn't happen again in the future.

Copyright 2005, The Augusta Chronicle