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Gannett News Service May 17, 2005

Closings could hurt Guard, some fear

Pentagon brass explain why base should be so severely downsized but not closed

WASHINGTON -- Some members of the panel deciding which U.S. military bases to close worry the Pentagon's plans to reshuffle National Guard and Reserve installations are too radical and could discourage recruitment.

The Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure plan, released Friday, proposes consolidating 387 Reserve and National Guard installations into about 125.

Those recommendations are part of a larger plan to close 33 major bases and restructure 29 others to streamline and modernize the military.

The Ohio Air National Guard's 179th Airlift Wing's base at Mansfield Lahm Airport is among those to be closed.

The Guard and Reserve changes could affect hundreds of thousands of people who serve in the part-time forces while holding down full-time jobs. The main concern is that consolidating installations will mean longer travel times for reservists and Guard members.

"You're going to have real enlistment problems," said former Rep. James Bilbray of Nevada, one of the nine members of the president-appointed base closing commission.

The base closure panel will review the Pentagon's recommendations and make any changes it deems necessary before submitting its list to the president by Sept 8. If Bush approves, it goes to Congress for an all-or-nothing vote.

The panel began its work Monday by questioning Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and senior Pentagon officials about how they formulated their recommendations.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Guard and Reserve consolidations were done to enhance capability, cut costs and integrate the part-time forces more closely with active-duty units.

Members of the heavily stressed Guard and Reserves make up about 40 percent of the roughly 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Myers acknowledged that "there will be some inconvenience" for people serving in the Guard and Reserves if the Pentagon's recommendations are followed.

Recruitment numbers for the Guard and Army reserves are already lagging this year. Guard recruitment was 24 percent behind in the first four months of the current recruiting year, which runs from October 2004 through September 2005.

"Anybody who looks at retention issues would have to be concerned about this," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense Web site. "This was one of the first things that really popped out at me."

 


Copyright 2005, Gannett News Service