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Gannett News Service May 29, 2005

BRAC toll heaviest in Northwest, Midwest

By Katherine Hutt Scott


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's recommendations for the next round of military base closings show a clear regional trend, cutting operations in the Northeast and Midwest, while further enhancing the South as a bastion of the nation's defense and military culture.

Some military experts and politicians say they're worried the process could create an unhealthy concentration of the military in the South, at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest, where the nation's bases and personnel are already underrepresented.

Representatives of the losing regions are calling for more consideration of the regional impact of military base closings. They say the military could have more trouble recruiting in places where there is less military presence and less support to fund the military. Some officials who represent areas whose bases are in jeopardy of closing worry that concentrating the armed forces in one region might make them more attractive terrorist targets.

"Homeland security does require a (military) presence to protect all regions of the country," said John Burchett, director of the Michigan state government's office in Washington.

Others point out that concentrating more military presence in the South could further divide the country culturally and militarily.

John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense analysis firm, says that while there are logical reasons for the move from the solidly Democratic Northeastern states to the mostly Republican Southern states, the trend could produce undesirable results.

"My concern is it would further polarize the country culturally into heavily militarized red states and demilitarized blue states," Pike said. "It's creating a situation where military bases are normal in states like Alabama and Texas and abnormal in states like Michigan and Wisconsin."

Under the Pentagon's recommendations, the Northeast, which has only 14 percent of the nation's Defense Department personnel, would lose more than 14,000 jobs, according to a study by the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a non-partisan Washington, D.C. research group.

The Midwest, which has 10 percent of the defense jobs, would lose 736 jobs. The South, which has almost half of the current defense jobs, would gain more than 10,000 jobs.

Michigan would gain 125 military jobs under the Pentagon's recommendations. But W.K. Kellogg Airport Air Guard Station in Battle Creek would close, costing the city 274 jobs. And Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township would lose 216 jobs, partly because its Army garrison would close.

During the four previous rounds of military base closings since 1988, Michigan lost just under half its military jobs with the shuttering of Wurtsmith Air Force Base, K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base and the Warren Tank Arsenal.

The Pentagon denies any regional favoritism in the latest round of base closings.

"It was not done by region," Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said. "The No. 1 criteria was military value (of a base) and that's what we based the recommendations on."

Retired Air Force Gen. James B. Davis, co-chairman of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's advisory group on the base-closure process, said the Pentagon has valid military reasons for moving its jobs.

Pike and Davis listed various reasons for the move South since the middle of the 20th century:

  • During World War II, the Army built training camps in areas with the most population, which at the time was the Northeast and Midwest. After the war, the Army decided to move its camps to the warmer South, where soldiers could train year-round.

  • Twenty years ago, the Navy wanted to base its ships around the country to win widespread political support and avoid having its resources wiped out in one Pearl Harbor-style attack. But houses and businesses encroached on its major ports in Boston and San Francisco, so the Navy pulled out of those cities and concentrated its ships in the less crowded ports of Norfolk, Va., and San Diego.

  • During the Cold War, the Air Force placed its bases in northern states to be closer to the Soviet Union and to be able to shoot down Soviet missiles before they hit U.S. cities. With the military now focused on Middle East countries such as Iraq, the bases are just as well positioned in states like Florida.


Copyright 2005, Gannett News Service