San Diego Union Tribune

May 28, 2005
    
President defends plan to close U.S. military sites
Bush says resources are needed more in Iraq and Afghanistan

By Otto Kreisher
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Closing America's surplus military bases would free up money for arming and equipping U.S. sailors, soldiers and fliers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush told the U.S. Naval Academy's graduating seniors yesterday.

"We have more bases than we need," he said in justifying the closure and realignment of military bases around the country. "Supporting these facilities wastes billions of taxpayer dollars, money that can be better spent on giving you the tools to fight terrorists and confront 21st-century threats."

The Pentagon this month proposed closing 33 major facilities and realigning 29 others. More than 100 smaller facilities also would be affected, including the San Diego Naval Medical Center, which would lose 1,650 jobs.

The closings and realignments would save $48.8 billion over 20 years, the Pentagon said. An independent commission will conduct hearings this summer on the recommendations before making its own report to Congress.

Bush, delivering the commencement address at the Naval Academy for the second time in his presidency, noted that when he addressed the class of 2001 no one imagined the nation four months later "would suffer a devastating surprise attack" and be plunged into "a global war unlike any we had known before."

"In this war, there is only one option and that is victory," the president said, drawing strong applause from the 976 graduating midshipmen and more than 20,000 others in a sun-washed Navy and Marine Corps Stadium.

Bush noted that some service members have died or suffered "terrible injuries" in the war and said, "America honors their sacrifice, and we will uphold the cause they served."

At least 1,791 U.S. service members have been killed and more than 12,000 wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The graduating midshipmen, the president said, "are the ones who will take up their mantle and carry on their fight and ensure the triumph of liberty in the century ahead."

Ground troops and special operations forces have suffered most of the casualties in the war on terror; 207 of the graduates chose to become Marine officers and 36 applied for Naval Special Warfare assignments.

Those are the highest numbers choosing those duties in memory, an academy spokesman said.

In addition to defeating the terrorists, Bush said, the new officers must help "transform our military for the 21st century, so we can deter and defeat the new adversaries who may threaten our people in the decades ahead."

After the graduation, Bush was to travel by helicopter to Camp David in Maryland for the weekend.

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