San Diego Union Tribune

May 4, 2005

Guard, returning troops are issues

By Otto Kreisher
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – The Base Realignment and Closure commissioners plunged into the complex rules yesterday that will shape their work and encountered unresolved questions on the Pentagon's basing plans and whether governors can veto changes affecting National Guard units.

The nine commissioners voiced uncertainty about how the plans to bring 70,000 troops back from overseas bases will affect their decisions on closing or otherwise adjusting installations in the United States.

Base-closing experts from the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is supposed to account for the returning troops in making the recommendations on base changes that he will send to the commission next week.

Two of the commissioners asked about the claim by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and members of the state's congressional delegation that the Pentagon cannot close a National Guard facility without the permission of the state's governor.

The Illinois officials are nervous about the fate of the 183rd Fighter Wing at the Springfield Capital Airport and the 182nd Airlift Wing at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport, both Air National Guard units.

Commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi told reporters the dispute was "an issue for the lawyers to decide" and would not stop the panel from continuing its work.

The Pentagon sent a letter to the Illinois officials on April 12 telling them the closure process would follow "all applicable laws" but to be "truly comprehensive" it had to deal with the facilities used by "the reserve component," which includes the Guard.

In opening the commission's first hearing, Principi told his colleagues that the upcoming work would challenge their intellect, their energy and "our emotions as we face our fellow citizens knowing our decisions will profoundly affect their lives and the future of their communities."

He also challenged the commissioners to "set aside concerns of partisanship and parochialism" to make decisions based only on the criteria established by the Base Realignment and Closure law.

And he cautioned them that the resources to support the armed services are limited. "Every dollar consumed in redundant, unnecessary, obsolete, inappropriately designed or located infrastructure is a dollar not available" for the training, munitions or weapons that could save service members' lives and win battles.

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