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Gannett News Service June 19, 2005

Pentagon would cut 92 jobs at guard base

By Katherine Hutt Scott

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon wants to eliminate 92 of the 274 full-time jobs at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base before it closes the base, planning documents show.

The remaining 182 jobs would go to Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township in fiscal year 2007 and the base at W.K. Kellogg Airport would close the next fiscal year, under a Pentagon scenario.

Recommendations released by the Pentagon in May proposed closing the Air National Guard station and sending the 110th Fighter Wing's 15 A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft to the 127th Wing at Selfridge. The men and women who fly and maintain the A-10s would follow the planes to Selfridge, Air Force officials have said.

Nationwide, the Pentagon recommended closing 33 major U.S. bases and restructuring 29 others as part of a modernization plan.

The Pentagon's recommendations are being reviewed by the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which will come up with a final list by Sept. 8.

Representatives of Michigan will testify at a commission hearing in St. Louis on Monday. U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, R-Battle Creek, will argue that his base should remain open.

His colleague, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, doesn't plan to attend the hearing. She has said she is satisfied with the Pentagon's recommendations.

Miller told reporters this week that although she and Schwarz are friends, "He doesn't want to give up the planes and I need the planes."

The Pentagon's proposed changes would send Selfridge's 927th Air Refueling Wing to MacDill Air Force Base in Florida but increase the fleet of Selfridge's 127th Wing, in part by sending over the A-10 aircraft from Battle Creek. The Pentagon also would close the Army garrison at Selfridge, for a net loss of 216 jobs at the base.

Other Pentagon documents compare the Battle Creek and Harrison Township bases in terms of size and quality of life for military personnel.

The base at Kellogg Airport is smaller and has less room to expand than Selfridge. The Battle Creek base has 320 acres, of which 123 are "available for development," according to an environmental profile of Air Force facilities. Selfridge has 2,562 acres, of which 174 are available for development.

One of the four key military criteria the Pentagon considered was a base's ability to accommodate the military's needs for future space.

John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense analysis firm, said Friday that in general the Pentagon wants to consolidate its operations on a smaller number of larger bases so it can reduce operating costs. But, it wants to be able to expand those remaining bases in the future to respond to new security threats.

Since Selfridge is bigger overall, the Pentagon could always knock down existing facilities and rebuild, if it needed new facilities, Pike said. The Battle Creek base's location at the city airport also is problematic, he said.

"At the municipal airport, you're always going to have the risk that the chamber of commerce is going to have some brainstorm about land use at the airport and gobble up all that future expansion land," Pike said.

Another consideration in the base-closure process — but according to the Pentagon not as important as the military considerations — is the ability of a local community to support the people who work at a base.

The Pentagon's demographic analysis of the areas housing the Battle Creek and Selfridge bases presented a mixed picture. It showed the Battle Creek-Kalamazoo area has lower average housing costs, a lower unemployment rate and students with higher average SAT scores than the greater Detroit area that encompasses Selfridge.

However, the Detroit area has a higher high school graduation rate, better access to doctors and a lower crime rate, according to the Pentagon.


Copyright 2005, Gannett News Service