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Grand Forks Herald June 20, 2005

Surging to GFAFB

The plight of Grand Forks Air Force Base was brought up Monday in Washington by the head of the federal Base Realignment and Closure panel in its first meeting since getting the Pentagon's dreaded closure list Friday.

"We were all surprised to have that come right away," said John Marshall, the Grand Forks attorney and businessman heading the community's base retention committee after arriving in Washington late Monday. He's not sure what to make of it yet, Marshall said. But it gives more of a sense of what the Pentagon might have in mind for the Grand Forks base.

The BRAC panel took three hours of testimony Monday from the Pentagon's top brass, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Michael Wynne, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics; and Phil Grone, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.

On Friday, Rumsfeld gave the panel the list calling for closing 33 major stateside bases and cutting down 29 more - including Grand Forks - to save $49 billion over 20 years.

The plan is to transfer out the base's 50 KC-135 tankers and 2,200 military personnel 80 percent of the current total - in the next few years. About 355 civilian jobs on the base also would be cut, with a net loss of nearly 2,700 direct jobs, and an added loss of about 2,300 jobs indirectly linked to the base, the Pentagon estimates.

Meanwhile, a new, smaller mission will be assigned to the Grand Forks base; details aren't clear yet, but it apparently involves UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, and a few hundred military personnel.

Planning to use only a small part of the base has many wondering.

John Pike, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org in Washington, said he couldn't figure out what the BRAC list was looking to do in Grand Forks.

"You go into BRAC with the theory that it's to reduce excess capacity at bases and, in fact, what they have done in Grand Forks is create excess capacity," Pike told the Herald. "They have a fully equipped air base that has everything except airplanes."
Good question

Anthony Principi, head of the BRAC panel, asked the Pentagon brass that very question Monday, according to a memo from George Schlossberg, the consultant hired by the Grand Forks base retention committee.

Undersecretary Wynne answered him.

"Principi asked why some recommendations were termed realignments, reads the memo, which was faxed Monday to Mayor Mike Brown, who provided the Herald with a copy. "For example, he said, the realignment recommendation for Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota would remove most of the personnel and all of the aircraft from the installation. Principi wanted to know why DOD did not simply recommend the closure of Grand Forks."

Undersecretary Wynne provided some idea of what the Pentagon has in mind for Grand Forks.

According to Schlossberg, "Wynne said the BRAC recommendations left the nation 'light' on its northern border. He suggested that Grand Forks AFB could become a facility where capacity could surge to help defend the border. Wynne said forces could be rotated through Grand Forks to maintain a presence there."

Marshall said it's still unclear exactly what the Pentagon has in mind.

"Surge capacity" is a concept Rumsfeld has been touting that would give the military more flexibility in staging and basing operations - get in, get out, nobody gets hurt to respond quickly to the multiplying threats around the world.

It might mean keeping bases open for temporary duties.


Copyright 2005, Grand Forks Herald