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Cohen Enlists Mayors' Support

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 1998 – BRAC. It's a four-letter word many in his audience may not have wanted to hear again, but Defense Secretary William Cohen used it repeatedly in his Jan. 29 address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors here.

BRAC is an acronym for "base realignment and closure." Cohen asked the mayors for support in convincing their communities and Congress to go along with new rounds of base closures.

"It is time to make the tough choices," he said. "We have to ask ourselves: Do we want depots in government hands or high-tech weapons in soldiers' hands? Do we want to protect facilities or protect troops?"

Both President Clinton and Cohen have called for two more rounds of base closures and realignments. They estimate this could free up to $2.8 billion annually. Cohen told the mayors the additional funds are needed to keep pace with current and possible future missions and to invest in future weapons technologies.

He emphasized the absence of a Soviet threat does not equal no threat and cited new threats he said are "harder to define and in some ways harder to defend against." These include regional aggression, ethnic conflicts, terrorism and chemical and biological warfare. All, Cohen said, require changes in tactics, training and doctrine, as well as enhanced or new equipment and weapons. The money, he told the mayors, is just not there without additional sources of revenue.

He said the Pentagon has already done almost all it can to reduce costs. Since the end of the Cold War, the force structure and budget have both been cut up to 40 percent, while infrastructure has been cut by only 21 percent.

"This gap ... represents billions of dollars going to bases we don't need, the very same billions of dollars we need to maintain readiness and modernize our forces," he said. "We have far fewer submarines, but the pier space supporting has not fallen accordingly. We have far fewer aircraft, but we have not seen a corresponding decrease in air bases."

The request for additional BRAC proceedings was part of Cohen's Defense Reform Initiative released in November. Among other things, that plan calls for dramatic cuts and consolidation in the DoD staff and increased use of technology to reduce to paperwork and increase efficiency.

Cohen told the mayors he is sensitive to concerns about base closings, having experienced the process himself as the mayor of Bangor, Maine, and subsequently as a U.S. senator. He urged them to look at communities that replaced the stable, static income of their military bases with dynamic, growth-oriented, private business and industrial centers.

He cited Alexandria, La., Mesa, Ariz., Alameda, Calif., Orlando, Fla., Charleston, S.C. and Indianapolis, as success stories. Throughout these and other transformations, he noted, DoD has provided economic help through job retraining, rapid environmental clean-up and grants for base reuse.

Cohen asked the mayors to look beyond economics and consider the national security needs and the welfare of service members.

"We can all say we are concerned about the Air Force not being able to keep its best pilots; about how the blistering pace of deployments to places like Bosnia, the Persian Gulf and elsewhere is putting a strain on our military families; about how we may not have enough money to keep our equipment well maintained or up to date," Cohen said.

"But our cries are hollow when, at the same time, we are knowingly putting money into maintaining excess real estate whose value to America's national security ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall nearly 10 years ago."

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