Friday, May 13, 2005

The Pentagon yesterday announced plans to close 33 major military bases and realign 29 others in a force restructuring designed to consolidate forces and save money — at least $49 billion over 20 years.

?Our current arrangements, designed for the Cold War, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st-century challenges,? Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in releasing the base closure list.

Major proposed closures include the Navy submarine base at New London, Conn.; Fort McPherson, Ga.; Naval Air Station Atlanta, Ga.; Naval Shipyard at Portsmouth, Maine; Naval Air Station at Pascagoula, Miss.; Fort Monmouth, N.J.; Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.; and Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.

Michael Wynne, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, said the closures are part of a military transformation based on the Pentagon’s global review of forces.

?We are recommending the closure of 33 of the 318 major military installations in the United States, and the realigning of 29 more,? he said. Another 775 smaller military facilities would be close or changed.

Mr. Wynne said the total savings over 20 years is expected to be close to $49 billion. ?If the savings resulting from global reposturing are included in our process, the total net savings is just under $65 billion,? he said.

The bases selected for closure were picked based on military value. Some Army bases would gain thousands of troops as the result of plans to bring some 70,000 troops back to the United States from Europe and South Korea.

As part of the base reform, the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center would be changed into a national military medical center serving all services and a new hospital would be built at Fort Belvior, Va. Walter Reed’s Army staff would move to a facility bearing its name at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

There would be no major closures to 18 military facilities in Maryland and several bases, including Andrews Air Force Base, which would have additional troops deployed. In Virginia, Fort Monroe would be closed and leased facilities shuttered, affecting more than 25,000 military and civilian personnel.

The Pentagon consulted military service leaders and combatant commanders in reaching its decisions, which must be approved by the nine-member independent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission before being sent to President Bush for approval. Then it’s up to Congress, which cannot alter the proposal.

Mr. Rumsfeld is scheduled to appear before the commission on Monday. After that, commissioners will visit bases and hold regional hearings throughout the summer, giving representatives of bases and the communities they serve a chance to fight for their survival.

Members of Congress and state officials who would be spared major cuts praised yesterday’s announcement.

?By not being recommended for closure, the Department of Defense correctly recognizes the vital role our bases play in the training and development of our servicemen and women,? said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, of the decision to keep San Diego’s major Navy facilities intact.

However, other lawmakers with bases scheduled for closing or cutbacks criticized the plan.

?The Department of Defense has decided through its BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] recommendations to dramatically neglect the Northeastern United States,? said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, objecting to the phasing out of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

?This is a strategic mistake as geographical military diversity is essential to defending the United States and providing a platform for our forces to deploy quickly to places around the world.?

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said he will try to rescue the submarine base at New London from closure.

?I am shocked by the Pentagon’s decision this morning to target the sub base here in New London for closure,? he said. ?It is wrong. It is shortsighted. And it is cruel and unusual punishment that Connecticut does not deserve and our national security cannot afford.?

The Pentagon reform plan also calls for consolidating military Reserve and Guard facilities into 125 new multicomponent Armed Forces Reserve Centers that would combine Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps elements.

Another major change is that pilots from different services who will fly the new Joint Strike Fighter would all receive training at a single location. Also, each service would send trainees to a single transportation facility, Egling Air Force Base, Fla., to learn to drive trucks.

The Army is moving some 10,000 tank troops from Fort Knox, Ky., to Fort Benning, Ga., to create the Maneuver Center, and 4,500 artillery troops at Fort Bliss, Texas, would be moved to Fort Sill, Okla., for a new Net Fire Center. Troops returning from Europe are expected to be sent to Fort Bliss.

The changes are to be made in the next two to six years.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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