Springfield State Journal-Register

May 17, 2005

Brac panel voices concern about Guard and Reserve cuts

BY Otto Kreisher
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON --Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged the Base Closure and Realignment commissioners Monday to resist the inevitable pleas to remove bases from his list of recommended reductions, warning that many of the proposed changes are tightly linked.

But commission chairman Anthony J. Principi told Rumsfeld that Congress specifically created the nine-member panel to provide "an independent, fair and equitable assessment and evaluation of both your proposal" and the process used to develop it. "This commission will provide that assessment - openly and transparently," he said.

Principi and other commissioners then asked a number of questions about the hundreds of National Guard and military reserve facilities that would be closed, expressing concern that the moves would aggravate the current problems in getting and keeping the citizen warriors, who are being used heavily in Iraq.

"I think you're going to have a serious problem with recruiting and retaining," said commissioner James Hansen, a former Republican congressman from Utah. "Do you think this is a smart move?"

Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to assure the panel that the hundreds of closures and adjustments were developed in consultation with the leaders of the active services and the Guard and reserves.

Myers said the Air Guard moves were made to consolidate aircraft into larger organizations that would be more usable and more efficient to maintain. In some cases the units would lose their aircraft but would get other missions. In other instances, the unit personnel could travel to the new locations to continue flying.

One unit that would be affected by the proposed reductions is the 183rd Fighter Wing at the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Ill. Its F-16 fighters would be moved to Fort Wayne, Ind.

"I think it's a very good plan to bring the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve into the 21st century force," Myers said.

Retired Army Gen. James T. Hill asked about the claim made by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich that the Pentagon could not change his state's Guard units without his permission.

Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Wynne, who played a major part in creating the BRAC recommendations, said: "We feel we are well within the law. It's been tested in previous (closure) rounds. This is not a precedent-setting event."

In the commission's first hearing on Rumsfeld's recommendations to close or adjust a total of 837 military facilities across the nation, the defense secretary noted that critics were saying the military should not be closing bases in the midst of the war on terrorism. But, he said, "these changes are essential to help us win this global war... These changes are more necessary in a time of war."

Rumsfeld noted that an "unavoidable consequence" of the closure process is that the recommendations "will not meet with universal acclaim. We've already seen that.

"Inevitably, members of Congress and others will ask the commission to reconsider these decisions," he said.

Although the commission should "listen carefully to these arguments," Rumsfeld added, "I would urge you to consider the exhaustive review that has taken place" in producing his recommendations.

Because this base adjustment round was designed to create more joint, or multi-service bases and activities, he said, "one must be careful about taking a look at one selective piece of the action without taking into consideration" the total intertwined process."

Rumsfeld noted that when the final package of recommended closings and adjustments came to him after nearly two years of effort he did not consider it possible to make any changes for fear of disrupting the carefully linked changes.

Myers also noted that "BRAC is not a stand-alone process" but is linked to the repositioning of troops from overseas and the transformation of the military into a lighter, more mobile force.

Although the commission can change Rumsfeld's recommendations, to do so they must find that he fundamentally misapplied the detailed criteria for closing or reducing a base. In the four previous BRAC rounds, at least 85 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations were approved.

The commission will hold additional hearings this week, getting detailed briefings from the armed services' leaders and then from the Pentagon groups that studied every base and activity looking for ways to merge redundant efforts.

Later the commissioners will begin to travel, visiting every base on the closure list and then to hold regional hearings to allow impacted communities to appeal Rumsfeld's recommendations.

They must make their final recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8, 2005.