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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review May 20, 2005

Military apparently moving muscle South

By Brian Bowling

A Pentagon report puts the Air Force Reserve's 911th Airlift Wing in the bottom third of air bases for supporting airlift operations.

A national military analyst said the unit's low evaluation doesn't doom efforts to save the Moon facility because Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hasn't proposed shutting down a third of the military's airlift wings.

"What you're going to have to do is convince them that they picked the wrong one (to close)," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an online clearinghouse of military news and information.

Rumsfeld released his plan for reshaping the military a week ago. It called for closing 33 of 318 major military bases, and shuttering or realigning 775 smaller facilities. The 911th and the Army's Charles E. Kelly Support Facility in Collier would be closed, and the Army Reserve's 99th Regional Readiness Command would be moved from Moon to Fort Dix, N.J. Those changes would cost the Pittsburgh area 845 military jobs and an estimated 571 private sector jobs.

The proposal provided few details beyond which bases the Pentagon wants to close, reduce or expand. On Wednesday, each branch of the military released some of the data supporting Rumsfeld's recommendations.

The Air Force, for example, rated how well it believes each of the 154 active, reserve and National Guard air bases can support eight types of missions ranging from fighter squadrons to space operations. The Army ranks 97 installations based on 40 characteristics, including their expansion room and their ability to support a brigade.

The Air Force report gave the 911th average scores on operating costs, infrastructure and ability to support troop and equipment movements, but rated the unit below average on how well it fits into the overall plan for the Air Force. That plan includes fewer but larger squadrons and a shift toward supporting more operations in the Pacific and Asia.

In earlier reports, the Pentagon said a key reason for closing the 911th was that it did not have room to accommodate more than 10 C-130 cargo planes. The Air Force wants all of its C-130 squadrons to house at least 12 -- and, ideally, 16 -- planes.

Local officials hope to persuade the Base Realignment and Closure Commission that the Pentagon analysis is flawed. They say the 911th has room to expand to handle a 16-plane squadron. Since 1998, 53 acres of tarmac have been set aside at Pittsburgh International Airport for expanding the 911th.

But there are other obstacles, starting with the military's shift from Rust Belt states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut to Sun Belt states such as Georgia, Alabama and Texas.

In part, the change is based on a post-Cold War world where conflicts are more likely to crop up in the Pacific and Asia than in Europe. Other factors include better weather and the steady migration of the nation's population from the Northeast to the Southwest, Pike said.

Attracting support for the 911th also could be difficult with closures or reductions planned at larger or more well-known facilities such as the submarine base at New London, Conn.; the shipyard at Portsmouth, Maine; Fort Knox, Ky.; and the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The commission likely will spend most of its time on the bases with the largest number of jobs at stake, Pike said.

"The initial hurdle is to convince the commission that this is a problem that they have time to worry about," he said of the 911th.

The nine-member commission is to submit a revised defense blueprint to the White House by Sept. 8. Congress must accept or reject the final list by the end of the year.


Copyright 2005, The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.