Posted: May 14, 2005 7:16 pm EST

Communities eye BRAC recommendations (~57 col. in.)
by CNHI News Service
    Additional Information: “It’s Friday the 13th in other places, but it’s still morning in Oklahoma.” - U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla.

    "Why would you put all your C-130s in tornado alley?" - U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

    Compiled by Luke Engan
    CNHI News Service

    MIDWEST CITY, Okla. - Car dealer Gary Lewis sat in his office behind the words “We support our troops.” The giant letters scrawled in window paint aimed across I-40 at Tinker Air Force Base.
    From the David Stanley Dodge building, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Friday recommendation that would add jobs at the base marked the release after months of tense waiting.
    “Any positive news is good news for our dealership,” Lewis said as the Oklahoma wind rippled the American flags outside in the lot that may not have been there without the large military installation. The Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure round is one factor eyed by the business.
    “It’s been in the back of my mind,” Lewis said. “It’s very convenient for those folks to come across the street and get service.”
    Under the list issued to the BRAC Commission by Rumsfeld, Tinker would net a gain of about 355 jobs but America’s bases overall would lose more than 12,000 military and civilian jobs.
    The list is not final. The commission, President Bush and Congress still have power to change or cancel the round.
    Rumsfeld named more than 33 of the 318 major U.S. military bases for closure, along with a number of smaller reserve centers. The scope of the round was scaled down from more drastic preliminary plans, to accommodate troops coming home from foreign bases and conflicts.
    Each successive round of base closings is more competitive than the last, as only the best remain, “like the NCAA,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, who explained the purpose of BRAC is to shed excess weight and focus the Pentagon’s budget on military strength.
    “It’s the same thing as corporate America - you’re trying to be leaner and meaner,” said Cole, R-Okla.

    Height of folly?
    Some found the list less agreeable.
    Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station would be closed under the recommendation, costing about 642 direct job losses and hundreds more indirectly.
    "To have this base close on an international border strikes me as the height of folly," said U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., who represents the base and surrounding community.
    "If it can be changed, we'll change it," she pledged.
    The base is undergoing $14 million in construction and seeing a crew prepare to leave for the Middle East.
    But Col. James Roberts, commander of the 914th Air Lift Wing in Niagara, did not object to the recommendation.
    "I don't think Niagara was targeted, when you see the larger picture of what the BRAC is trying to do," Roberts said.
    His C-130 force would move to Little Rock, Ark., under the recommendation.
    U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, former Little Rock resident, questioned the plan.
    "Why would you put all your C-130s in tornado alley?" said Clinton, D-N.Y.
    Community supporters formed the Niagara Military Affairs Council years ago to protect the base from closing. NIMAC estimates moving the planes could cost $20 million.
    U.S. Rep. Thomas Reynolds said "We're mad as hell and we're going to fight."
    Reynolds, R-N.Y., labeled the recommendation "wrong" and questioned the goals of the BRAC round.
    "I believe the Pentagon's motivations are not based on strategy or vision, but on moving equipment to active duty stations. That, in my view, is a misuse of the BRAC process," Reynolds said.
    In the past, 85 percent of bases recommended for closure have closed. The nine-member BRAC Commission now begins scrutinizing the recommendation and submits its final recommendation to Bush in September.
    Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards called the closure threat "another kick in the face.
    "The local economy is going to be devastated," Richards said. The base is the county's second-largest employer.
    John Cooper, vice president of NIMAC, said "We are prepared and we are confident that the BRAC Commission will see the great military value the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station brings to our national security abroad and in defense of our homeland."

    Napping in the rain
    In Enid, Vance Air Force Base stood to pick up 99 jobs, 93 military and six civilian, and no losses.
    “I’m so dadgum happy I think I’ll take a nap in the rain,” said Bruce Jackson of Johnson’s of Enid Chrysler.
    Leonard Northcutt, owner of Northcutt Chevrolet Buick and Northcutt Toyota, said consumers have been reluctant to pick up big-ticket items for several months.
    Now he expects the dam to break.
    “There will be more demand for everything - 20 to 40 percent,” he said.
    U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said “The community should be extremely proud. This is a clear-cut win for Vance Air Force Base, a clear-cut win for Enid and for north central Oklahoma.”
    Ret. Air Force Gen. J.B. Davis, a member of the 1995 BRAC Commission, is hired by the Vance Development Authority to protect the base’s future.
    He and former Mayor Mike Cooper will seek to keep the job gain in the final list.
    “We’ll be in Washington a lot. It’s not my favorite city, but it’s a good cause,” Davis said.
    Vance is picking up three missions from Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Ga.
    But Moody is picking up enough missions from elsewhere to come out ahead as well.
    Under Rumsfeld’s recommendation, the base would post a net gain of 575 jobs in a shuffle involving hundreds more.
    In keeping with this BRAC round’s priority list that sets military value considerations above local economic impacts, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston said “The good news is number one we’re not in danger, number two there’s a net gain that does impact the economy.”
    Kingston, R-Ga., said the community needs to make sure it is prepared for the extra inhabitants.
    For that task, Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson said much work has already been done.
    “I also think the housing stock should be able to accommodate the growth,” Hanson said.
    The Lowndes County Board of Commissioners had been managing growth near the base to avoid encroachment, in which what is built nearby threatens operations and makes the base less appealing to the BRAC commission.
    Rod Casey, chairman of the board of commissioners, said the decision to expand the base did not come as a major surprise.
    "Local officials and staff refused to believe early on that an installation of excellence such as Moody would be targeted. A large portion of prior planning efforts have been directed toward expansion and growth," Casey said.

    Still in the woods
    Community members in Meridian, Miss., were upbeat to learn Naval Air Station Meridian would remain open at near-full capacity. But the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Mississippi Air National Guard, at Key Field, could take a hit.
    "The Meridian team is glad that the Pentagon acknowledges NAS Meridian as a value to our nation's military infrastructure," said Lamar McDonald, chairman of the Meridian Military Team and the statewide Mississippi Military Communities Council.
    Capt. Jeffrey Dickman, commanding officer of NAS Meridian, was unsure what it would mean that the base would see realignment of 16 jobs.
    "The last thing we want to do is gloat," Dickman said. "It's the big picture that we need to keep in mind."
    He thanked McDonald for his work on behalf of the base.
    But as for the Air Guard unit, its nine KC-135R tankers would be deployed to Guard bases in Maine, Tennessee and Wisconsin, taking 33 military positions and 142 civilian positions with them.
    "What we have now is more questions than answers," said Col. Erik Hearon, wing commander.
    Tom Williams, president of the Meridian Regional Airport Authority and coordinator of the team's "A Team," said he supports what is right for the U.S. military.
    "And we believe that the decision to move is the wrong decision," Williams said.
    NAS Meridian may be helped by the fact that other Naval air bases in nearby states like ones in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Kingsville, Texas, were spared by the closure list.
    U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., said that will mean less competition to stay off the list.
    But for many in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, keeping Youngstown Air Reserve Station off the list may mean competing with places like Niagara slated to close.
    The community celebrated word that the Youngstown station could take on eight additional jobs.
    Michael Gjede for one. The former commander of the 910th retired last year and devoted time to the station’s interest in the BRAC round.
    “If we’ve accomplished nothing else, the base and the community have come together,” Gjede said.
    Gjede worked for Save Our Airbase Reservists, a nonprofit group that has marketed and lobbied to shield the base from BRAC cuts.
    The group touted the base’s joint use of Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. The site boasts the Defense Department’s only full-time fixed-wing aerial spray mission.
    SOAR’s task is not over as the BRAC commission reviews the recommendations.

    Singled out for gains
    Oklahoma, one of the few states to consistently gain jobs through all four past rounds, is poised to gain 3,919 net jobs in this round, if the commission sticks with Rumsfeld’s plan.
    The sun shone on U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook where he stood outside the gates of Tinker on ground still wet from earlier rainstorms.
    “The sun came out,” said Istook, R-Okla. “It’s Friday the 13th in other places, but it’s still morning in Oklahoma.”
    He said Oklahoma’s gains came from the state’s low cost-of-living and long-term dedication to supporting the installations.
    Cole said “This is great news for communities and bad news for lobbyists.”
    Gov. Brad Henry welcomed the announcement but cautioned Oklahomans to remain vigilant, as Rumsfeld’s list is only a recommendation.
    “Despite today’s positive news for Oklahoma, we must remain vigilant to guard against our bases getting ensnared in the remaining phases of the BRAC closure process,” he said. “Our military bases are vital to our national security interests, but they are also critical to our state’s economic well-being. We cannot, and will not, take anything for granted.”
    In eastern Oklahoma, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant could stand to gain several contracted operations netting 159 jobs.
    U.S. Rep. Dan Boren said one reason is more than 90 percent of ammunition used by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan comes from McAlester.
    But he pointed to a newspaper article that had alarmed his office. The article quoted a Pentagon source saying the ammunition manufacturing should be privatized and suggested the plant is on the BRAC list.
    It remains a possibility as commissioners scrutinize the recommendations.
    “We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Boren, D-Okla.

    Tale of one Midwest city
    Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Burpee, who has lobbied in the BRAC round on behalf of Tinker, believes the final list approved this fall will be similar to the recommendations.
    “I don’t think they’re going to stray very far,” Burpee said of the commission.
    Like other base towns around the country, Midwest City revolves around Tinker in many ways. Ron Leggett of Moore this week signed the welcome center guestbook at a state tourist kiosk along the highway.
    His reason for coming to the state: “Tinker.”
    Midwest City Mayor Eddie Reed said the city’s economy could have ground to a halt if the base were listed to close.
    “We wouldn’t have been able to lease one building,” Reed said. “It affects everyone that lives in Midwest City.”
    The community could gain as many as 450 jobs from the indirect economic gain of a larger base, said David Burnett, certified economic developer at the Midwest City Chamber of Commerce.
    But Deb Gaines did not need any guarantees of Tinker’s future before investing in new retail space on Air Depot Boulevard.
    Gaines, manager at Tan and Tone America, said the base clearly affects business, but not enough to think twice about moving into a building now under construction.
    “We’re not going to change our plans,” Gaines said.
    Others had also invested in the town’s future before finding which way BRAC would go. The corridor along the north edge of the base is filled with retail spaces under construction, pattern-stamped yellow insulation and red mud parking lots.
    Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett attributed the gain at Tinker to the work ethic at the base as well as positive relations between local and Pentagon officials.
    He has not had time to examine the recommended closure of Krowse U.S. Army Reserve Center in Oklahoma City, but he found the list as a whole overwhelmingly positive for the area.

    Luke Engan is CNHI Oklahoma reporter. Enid (Okla.) News & Eagle, McAlester (Okla.) News-Capital, Meridian (Miss.) Star, Midwest City (Okla.) Sun, Niagara (N.Y.) Gazette, Norman (Okla.) Transcript, Sharon (Pa.) Herald and Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times contributed to this report.

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