Rumsfeld Makes Case for Base Closings

In his first public remarks since the Pentagon issued its recommendation to close 33 major bases, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the proposal. In comments to a nine-member panel reviewing the recommendations, Rumsfeld said the changes were needed to adjust to the challenges of a changing world.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is defending his department's recommendations for closing and downsizing domestic US military bases. An independent nine-member commission is reviewing the recommendations to close 33 major bases and to realign 29 others. NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

The recommendations released last Friday have caused outrage in areas of the country where bases are targeted for closure. The base closure commission began hearings on the recommendations today, and its chairman, Anthony Principi, said once again that his panel will not be a rubber stamp for the Pentagon.

Mr. ANTHONY PRINCIPI (Base Closure Commission Chairman): If your proposals are accepted by the president and the Congress, what you propose will have profound effects on communities and on the people who bring them to life. They will also shape our military capabilities for decades to come. And that is why the Congress and the president look to us for an unbiased assessment and clearer-eyed reality check.

O'HARA: Rumsfeld told the commission that a leaner, more cost-effective force is vital to the nation's security in the post-Cold War world.

Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Defense Department): We face an enemy that's dispersed throughout the world, does not operate the same way as a traditional enemy, has no territory to defend and is constantly adapting, as must we. Some have asked why we're proposing any base closures during a time of war, and the answer is because the changes are essential in helping us win in this conflict.

O'HARA: Although the Pentagon is calling for the shutdown of 33 major bases, it also wants to close numerous National Guard and Reserve facilities. Commissioner James Bilbray of Nevada, a former Democratic congressman, questioned the wisdom of that.

Former Representative JAMES BILBRAY (Democrat, Nevada; Base Closure Commissioner): I'll tell you, when I look at the amount of Guard and Reserve units being shut down--not units, but their facilities--I think as this war drags on--and it looks like it's going to drag on for a lot longer--and more and more Guard and Reserve units are having to be rotated out, you're going to have a real enlistment problem in the Guard and Reserves.

O'HARA: Bilbray pointed out that eliminating some facilities would mean longer travel time for members of the Guard and Reserves who must report for weekend training.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed that people might be inconvenienced, but he said that incorporating Guard and Reserve forces into facilities with active-duty service personnel would result in better training and a more capable military.

This was only the first of many hearings by the commission. Members will travel to bases and military installations to measure the costs and benefits of closure. Secretary Rumsfeld acknowledged the hardships created by base closures and the political battle ahead.

Sec. RUMSFELD: All of the decisions made will not meet with unanimous acclaim; we've seen that already. Inevitably, members of Congress and other elected officials will urge the commission to reconsider these recommendations, and we understand that.

O'HARA: The commission is expected to finalize the recommendations and submit them to the president by September 8th. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.

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