Military Bases Targeted for Closure
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Even with US forces engaged in conflict overseas, the Pentagon is proposing to close more than 180 military facilities, including 33 major military bases. The Pentagon released its recommendations today for what will be the nation's fifth round of base closures since 1988. There is outcry around the country where closings are slated, and there is relief in other places where bases have been spared. We'll get some of those local perspectives in a few minutes. First this overview from NPR's Vicky O'Hara.
VICKY O'HARA reporting:
As with previous rounds of base closures, the Pentagon's new recommendations are designed to save money. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that if all the recommendations ultimately are approved by Congress, the nation would save almost $49 billion over a 20-year period. But Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing yesterday that this round of base closings also has a strong strategic component.
Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Department of Defense): Current arrangements pretty much designed for the Cold War must give way to the new demands of war against extremists and other evolving 21st-century challenges.
O'HARA: Michael Wynne, undersecretary of Defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics, says the Pentagon recommends closing 33 of the 318 domestic installations that it considers to be major bases. Another 29 would be scaled back in terms of personnel or facilities. Among the installations targeted for shutdown: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine; the Naval submarine base in New London, Connecticut; the naval station in Pascagoula, Mississippi; Ft. Mcpherson in Georgia; Ft. Monmouth in New Jersey; Cannon Air Base in New Mexico; and Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. Ellsworth is that state's second-largest employer. Undersecretary Wynne acknowledged the hardship that such closures would have on communities. He said grants will be made available to help them recover from the loss of jobs and commerce.
Mr. MICHAEL WYNNE (Undersecretary for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics, Department of Defense): We are assigning a program manager to each major affected community so that they will have somebody to turn to and call to and somebody to perhaps take them through what we think is a very difficult period of time here.
O'HARA: Pentagon officials say the decisions about which bases to close were based primarily on the military value of an installation to US defense needs in the post-Cold War world. General Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says senior military leaders who participated in the decision-making process had these goals.
General RICHARD B. MYERS (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Continuing the progress we have made in transforming our force, including how we integrate our Reserve component into the total force and how we posture our forces globally to be more flexible and agile. Second, configuring our infrastructure to enhance joint war fighting, facilitate joint training and improve efficiency. And finally, converting unneeded capacity into war-fighting capability.
O'HARA: Pentagon officials say they want to eliminate duplication of certain facilities among the different services. As an example, Mike Wynne says the recommendations would consolidate facilities for pilot training.
Mr. WYNNE: One of the major commitments that the services have all made is for a Joint Strike Fighter initial pilot training base, and they're going to have that all at one location, which is a remarkable change from history where we may have had the same model airplane, but they were all taught at different places.
O'HARA: Wynne says the pilot training facility will be at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute says the recommendations announced by the Pentagon do reflect a determination to reorganize and relocate the military.
Mr. LOREN THOMPSON (Lexington Institute): Basically orienting it away from Europe, where traditional threats originated, and toward the West to places like the eastern Asian littoral and the Persian Gulf, where the new threats seem to be emerging.
O'HARA: As an example, Thompson notes that under these recommendations, Northeastern states would take a much bigger hit than the South and West. An independent commission will begin hearings on the recommendations next week. The commission will finalize the list for closures and submit it to the president and Congress by year's end. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.
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