WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is proposing the most sweeping changes to its network of military bases in modern history, a plan that would close 33 major facilities in 22 states and reconfigure hundreds of others to achieve savings and promote cooperation among the armed services.
More than two years in the making, Friday's recommendations by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld represented his attempt to balance a whirl of competing forces. They include the changing threats facing the nation, massive federal deficits, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economies of local communities and political pressures.
While state officials, community leaders, lobbyists and members of Congress combed through a thicket of data the Pentagon presented, the overarching theme of Rumsfeld's plan was surprisingly simple: To be more combat ready and affordable, the individual services must become leaner and more unified.
An example: The Army would move the 7th Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, N.C., to the Air Force's Eglin, Fla., base, so both services' elite troops could train together more easily. An airfield next to Eglin is the headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command.
Out would go the crown jewel of the Army hospital system: the venerable Walter Reed hospital in Washington. The hospital would move staff and services to the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md., to create a new, expanded facility carrying the Walter Reed name.
The military calls this "jointness" — the services combining their strengths rather than working separately.
"Because jointness is key to creating military value — that was our goal," said Michael Wynne, the Pentagon's technology and weapons-buying chief who oversaw the base review project.
Rumsfeld had said before releasing his report that closures would be fewer than once anticipated, in part because surplus space will be used to accommodate tens of thousands of troops scheduled to be brought home from Cold War-era bases in Europe and Asia.
And while the number of bases he has asked to be shuttered is only slightly higher than in previous base-closing rounds dating to 1988, he put forth an extraordinary number of other changes and consolidations — 775 "minor closures and realignments" compared with 235 in the four previous rounds combined.
The proposal submitted to Congress and an independent base closing commission evoked immediate howls of protest from members of Congress whose states stand to lose jobs — civilian and military — and the Pentagon pledged to lend a helping hand to the hardest hit communities.
"It is wrong. It is shortsighted," Sen. Joseph Lieberman (news, bio, voting record), D-Conn., said when he learned the closures would include the submarine base at Groton. He called it "cruel and unusual punishment" of his state, which would suffer a net loss of 7,133 military and 1,041 civilian jobs.
Disappointment was also felt far from the corridors of power.
In Texarkana, Texas, doughnut shop owner Danny Witt estimated he would lose $1,000 a month in sales if the Red River Army Depot and Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant are closed as proposed.
"I hate it," he said. "It's devastating. I really thought we would miss the list."
Many of the states that fared well are in the South and Southwest. Georgia would register a net gain of 8,677 military positions, although it would lose 1,971 civilian jobs, while Texas would gain nearly 9,000 military positions, with El Paso and San Antonio acquiring the most.
Rumsfeld said he knows some communities will struggle to cope with job losses, but he made clear that the nation's security can be assured only if the military gets stronger.
It's a theme Rumsfeld has sounded throughout his tenure at the Pentagon, and he alluded to it in a cover letter to the report to Anthony J. Principi, chairman of the base closing commission.
"Increasing combat effectiveness and transforming U.S. forces are critical if our country is to be able to meet tomorrow's national defense challenges," he wrote. He recommended that a similar base-use review be done every five to 10 years. His was the first since 1995.
The chiefs of all the services endorsed Rumsfeld's plan, but it will face intense scrutiny from Principi's panel, which will take public testimony from Rumsfeld on Monday. The commission has until Sept. 8 to present its recommendations to President Bush, who can accept or reject it whole, but not part. Congress likewise can accept or reject it in whole.
Among other highlights of Rumsfeld's plan:
_In addition to the 33 major bases that would be closed, another 29 would shrink in size and lose 400 or more jobs. Four of the latter are Navy facilities in California, including Naval Base Coronado. Fort Knox, Ky., would not close but would lose 4,867 military jobs while gaining 1,739 civilian slots.
_The Air Force would consolidate its B-1 Lancer bomber fleet at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, resulting in the closure of Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. The aerospace medicine program at Brooks City-Base, in San Antonio, Texas, would move to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Wright-Patterson also would obtain the Navy's aero-medical research laboratory now located at Pensacola, Fla.
_The Army would close Fort Monroe, Va., built in the early 1800s on the site of various fortifications that dated back to 1609, when the British erected defenses to protect the approaches to the Jamestown colony. Its main tenant, the Training and Doctrine Command, would be moved to Fort Eustis, Va.
_About 12 million square feet of leased space would be vacated for more secure facilities owned by the government.
Idk what really to think about this... Its suppose to help the military to become more "leaner and more unified." CNN was talking about after the bases close they will be zoned for commercial use, so malls and such complexes would be built and that would restore the money flow to communities.
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Pentagon Plans Massive Overhaul of Bases
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