Friday, May 13, 2005

The Pentagon yesterday proposed closing Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which has operated for nearly a century in the District, and several small installations in Virginia and Maryland as part of its base restructuring plan. Maryland would see several small bases closed but would gain more than 9,000 jobs at installations such as Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground under recommendations by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). In addition, Virginia would gain military jobs but would lose some civilian jobs overall under the plan, which includes closing Fort Monroe, the third-largest employer in Hampton. Defense officials said the government could eventually save $100 million a year by closing Walter Reed Medical Center, arguably the military’s most famous hospital. Hundreds of soldiers have been treated there for wounds they suffered during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 2,600 military personnel and 2,300 civilian workers would be transferred or lose their jobs at Walter Reed under the BRAC plan. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said it would be a “terrible shame” to see the hospital close, adding that he hopes to persuade Congress to keep it open. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday announced the base closings and consolidations, which must be approved by Congress and the president to take effect. However, Congress is required to accept or reject the BRAC plan in its entirety. Closing Walter Reed would require moving some of its staff and services to an expanded health care facility at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The new facility would retain the Walter Reed name, officials said. “We remain committed to taking care of our people, doing what’s right for our soldiers, our military and our nation,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Farmer Jr., commander of the North Atlantic Region Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The proposed closure was a blow to some of Walter Reed’s workers and neighbors. “It’s mind-boggling,” said Navy veteran Harold Thompson, 25, who lives across the street from the hospital, where he visits his doctor. “It will be a real issue for me and other people in the neighborhood if Walter Reed shuts down.” Walter Reed is by far the largest D.C. facility on the realignment list. But the Pentagon also wants to realign Bolling Air Force Base, the Potomac Annex, the Naval District of Washington and some leased office space. In all, the moves would affect 6,538 military and civilian employees — the vast majority at Walter Reed. Virginia, which has the most military installations per capita in the nation, would gain more than 5,000 military jobs and lose nearly 9,000 civilian jobs. “I think we did pretty well,” Gov. Mark Warner said. Mr. Warner, a Democrat, vowed to lobby to save Fort Monroe, which dates to the early 1800s and employs more than 6,800 people as headquarters for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. But he said the base, situated on a peninsula extending into the Chesapeake Bay, could be put to other use. “[Y]ou have to remember, that is probably some of the most valuable real estate in the state,” he said. “It is not like it is in a rural, isolated area.” In Northern Virginia, Rep. James P. Moran said the plan would not only cost that region more than 20,000 jobs and billions of dollars, it would compromise national security. “We’ve created a successful brain trust around the Pentagon … to break up that nexis will leave our military on shakier ground, thereby hampering the robust defense of our country,” the Virginia Democrat said. Proposed closures in Maryland include the Patuxent River Defense Finance and Accounting Service (a loss of 53 civilian jobs), the Navy Reserve Center in Adelphi (a loss of 17 military jobs) and the PFC Flair U.S. Army Reserve Center in Frederick (a loss 20 military jobs and two civilian jobs). The state would lose 1,570 military jobs but gain more than 9,000 civilian jobs. For example, Aberdeen Proving Ground would lose 3,411 military jobs and gain 5,371 civilian ones. Fort Meade would gain 682 military and about 3,000 civilian jobs. Andrews Air Force Base would gain 191 military and 300 civilian jobs. “This announcement … reaffirms the central role our military installations play in the war on terror,” said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. “We welcome the increased military presence coming to the state and are excited for the prospects that come with our expansions.” • This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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