- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

The federal base closure commission voted yesterday to shut Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a D.C. landmark that cares for about 14,000 patients yearly, including more than 1,200 service members wounded in the war on Islamic terrorists.

The commission also backed a Pentagon plan to move more than 20,000 military and civilian jobs from Northern Virginia commercial office space to military bases outside the Capital Beltway.

Walter Reed’s patient care and research projects will be moved seven miles across the border to a new ultramodern health care complex in Bethesda. Maryland is expected to gain about 1,300 jobs.

In approving the Bush administration recommendation, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) voted unanimously to close what started as an 80-room hospital in 1909 and grew to today’s 5,500 rooms covering 28 acres between Rock Creek Park and Georgia Avenue.

BRAC Chairman Anthony J. Principi lauded Walter Reed’s health care over the decades for privates and generals alike. But he agreed with the Army’s proposal to create a more streamlined health care system at what is now the National Naval Medical Center near downtown Bethesda.

“Kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, all of them in harm’s way, deserve to come back to 21st-century medical care,” Mr. Principi said.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Walter Reed has cared for 4,666 in- and out-patients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 1,200 of whom were battle casualties.

The new complex will be named the Walter Reed National Medical Center, keeping the name of the Army surgeon who led the team that discovered that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, not personal contact.

Some of Walter Reed’s patient care capacity will also be shifted south to Fort Belvoir.

The commission began voting Wednesday on Pentagon recommendations to close 33 major bases and realign 29 others, with a projected savings of nearly $50 billion over 20 years.

So far, the commission’s makeup of nine former military officers and ex-government officials has backed most of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s decisions.

But it has differed on at least two major bases, voting to keep open a submarine base in New London, Conn.; and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine.

Yesterday, it also granted a reprieve to two of the military’s most elite schools. It voted to keep open the Defense Language Institute and Naval Postgraduate School, both in Monterey, Calif. The panel had decided last month to add the two schools to the master closure list.

In other decisions yesterday, the panel approved Pentagon requests to close Onizuka Air Force Station in California and Brooks City-Base in Texas.

But it went against military advice in Alaska, voting to close the Galena Airport Forward Operation Location, while keeping operational Eielson Air Force Base. The Air Force had wanted to leave Galena alone while drastically scaling back Eielson.

The commission may wrap up final deliberations today when it decides the fate of other major Air Force bases, and a realignment of Air National Guard bases. The most contentious vote will be the one on closing Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., home to B-1B bombers. The Air Force wants to move the planes to Texas.

Under the BRAC law, the commission has until Sept. 8 to present its report to President Bush. He has until Sept. 23 to send the recommendations to Congress. If Congress does not vote to reject the package in its entirety in 45 days, the closure list goes into effect.

The Pentagon justifies the shift of jobs from Northern Virginia to the outer suburbs on grounds of saving taxpayer money for rent and on the buildings’ not meeting government terrorism security standards.

Most of the office space is in Crystal City, Rosslyn-Ballston, Baileys Crossroads and Eisenhower Valley. The military installations receiving these jobs, and other new positions created by base closings elsewhere, include Fort Belvoir, the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., also Fort Meade and the Aberdeen Proving Ground, both in Maryland.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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