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CITIZEN JOURNALISM: First joint base created by BRAC
Question of the Day
In accordance with the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations, the first joint base in the Department of Defense was created Oct. 1 in a redesignation ceremony. Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall combined the Armys Fort Myer in Virginia, Fort McNair in the District and the Marines Henderson Hall in Virginia. Fort Myer and Henderson Hall are contiguous, both lying alongside Arlington National Cemetery. These three facilities serve more than 150,000 active-duty and retired military personnel and Defense Department civilians in the national capital region.
The purpose of BRAC is to create an "efficiency of effort" across the Defense Department. The commissions have their origin in the Kennedy administration. The president realized that the infrastructure buildup from World War II and Korea had to be downsized because of the expense of excess capacity and threat to the modernization of the force. In the early 1960s, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara closed 60 bases.
Political blowback from Congress developed under President Johnson, but he resisted. However, in 1977, President Carter signed a bill requiring that Congress become part of any decision to close military facilities. Base closings stopped until October 1988, when Congress passed a law formally creating bipartisan and independent commissions. BRAC was established in order to bring about the necessary reorganization of the Defense Department outside political pressure.
Under refinements of that law, the president nominates members of a commission and the Senate confirms. The defense secretary then makes recommendations to the commission, whose members travel to the sites, hold hearings, consider the impact on local economies and environment, plan for federal help, and then submit their recommendations to the president. The president either sends those back for more work or sends them without changes to Congress. The recommendations will go into effect unless Congress disapproves by a joint resolution.
Before the first BRAC, there were 500 domestic military bases. There have been four BRACs, and they have reduced that capacity by just over 20 percent. It is estimated that between 1997 and 2001 BRAC has saved American taxpayers $16 billion.
This is the first time multiple installations of different branches of service have been combined into one. Each of these facilities has a long and distinguished history.
Fort Lesley J. McNair, established in 1791, is the third-oldest post in the Army. It was part of Maj. Pierre LEnfants original design for Washington. First, it was an arsenal used for the defense of the new nations new capital. It was captured by the British in 1812. During the Civil War, Fort McNair was a munitions manufacturing and test center and was often visited by President Lincoln. Today, it is the home of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
Fort Myer was established in 1863 to provide defense for Washington from the Virginia side of the Potomac River during the Civil War. It has been the home of the Horse Calvary, Artillery and Infantry as well as being the birthplace of military aviation in 1909. It now is home to the Armys premier ceremonial unit, the Old Guard, the Army Band and the U.S. Army Garrison. Fort Myer is also home to many of the nations top military leaders, including the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the chiefs of staff for both the Army and the Air Force.
The headquarters of the Marine Corps at Henderson Hall was established during World War II. It was named for the 5th Commandant of the Corps, Brig. Gen. Archibald Henderson. Since 1943, Henderson Hall has provided administrative, logistical and quality of life support for active-duty and retired Marines in the national capital region.
Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, commander of the Army Military District of Washington's Joint Force Headquarters National Capitol Region, began the redesignation ceremony by thanking "those here today who have answered the call with a monumental effort." More than 450 personnel worked on a 124-step program in the consolidation effort. That effort has allowed Henderson Hall to return troops to active combat organizations. He said the success with Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall will provide a "blueprint for future efforts." There are plans to consolidate 26 facilities into 12 in the near future.
Col. Roarke L. Anderson, commanding officer Headquarters Battalion at Henderson Hall, noted that "no one wants to give up anything," but that the opportunity to excel in a larger endeavor made the merger successful.
Col. Laura J. Richardson, garrison commander of the Fort Myer Military Community, oversaw the redesignation process. The commander will always be Army, with the deputy commander a Marine billet. Col. Richardson served as the first joint base commander, a position that she relinquished and passed to Army Col. Carl R. Coffman.
The concept of jointness goes beyond combining infrastructure. It also encompasses strategic planning involving the efficient and effective use of forces. In that regard, the concept of joint military operations began when nations first fielded both land and sea forces. The issues that Pericles grappled with in the defense of Athens more than 400 years B.C. - coordinating forces and resources - are still issues for military leaders today.
As weapons increased in lethality and communications increased in speed, the issues of joint strategy and tactics became exponentially more complex. This also means that decision-making must often be instantaneous.
Successful operations such as the creation of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, supporters said, are important steps in the direction of coordinating the power of the entire American Military Complex efficiently and effectively.
• Linda Bartlett is a writer living in Annandale.
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