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BRAC Panel Begins Final Deliberations

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2005 – The Base Realignment and Closure Commission generally supported the Defense Department's recommendations today as the panel began its final four days of deliberations. However, commission members voted down proposals to close a submarine base, a shipyard and an Army depot.

The panel met in Arlington, Va., to begin voting on DoD's proposal to reshape the military infrastructure and eliminate excess by closing 33 major bases and realigning 29 others. Officials emphasized that the votes are not considered final until the commission finishes its deliberations on Aug. 27.

While supporting most of the proposals today, the commission voted against those to close Submarine Base New London, Conn., and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine, and agreed to realign rather than close Red River Army Depot, Texas.

Commission members supported the proposed closure of Fort Monmouth, N.J., but only with the stipulation that there's no degradation in programs and initiatives or interruption of operations that support warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They rejected a proposal to relocate the Night Vision Lab from Fort Belvoir, Va., to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., where most of Fort Monmouth's assets are slated to move under the plan.

The panel also approved the closure of four other major Army installations: Fort Gillem and Fort McPherson, in Georgia; Fort Monroe, Va.; and the U.S. Army Garrison in Selfridge, Mich.

The commission also agreed to close almost 400 Army Reserve and Army National Guard facilities and to create joint centers in their place.

Turning to Navy matters, the commission approved recommendations to close Naval Station Pascagoula, Miss.; Naval Air Station Atlanta, Ga.; and Naval Station Ingleside and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, both in Texas.

The body also voted not to close Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., as the East Coast's Master Jet Base, but only with strict provisions that local and state officials take active steps to stop growth around the base within the next six months.

Commissioners had added Oceana to DoD's recommended closure list in July, citing concerns over residential encroachment around the base they said presents a safety risk to both air crews and residents. They agreed to go forward with the plan to move the master jet base to Cecil Field, Fla., if Virginia officials do not heed their warning.

The commission tabled a vote on Willow Grove Naval Air Station, Pa., until Aug. 27.

After its final vote this weekend, the panel will send its final report to President Bush by Sept. 8. The president, if he concurs, will send the final list to Congress, which can accept or reject it in its entirety, but not change it.

Today's session follows months of hearings around the country regarding DoD's plan that defense officials say will save some $49 billion over the next 20 years.

Some BRAC commissioners have challenged the department's projected cost savings, as well as the military justification for some recommendations. The panel voted July 19 to add several military installations to a list being considered for closure during hearings in Washington. DoD had recommended one of those bases, Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, for realignment, but not closure.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended DoD's BRAC recommendations during an Aug. 23 Pentagon news briefing and urged commissioners against going too far in changing them.

"I feel that we made very solid recommendations," the secretary said. "I suspect the commission, when all is said and done, will endorse the overwhelming majority of these recommendations."

Rumsfeld called the plan an opportunity to "reset our force," to make it more efficient and cost-effective. The recommendations "didn't come out of mid-air," he said, but followed two and a half years of study and review that were free of political motivations. "There wasn't an ounce of politics in any aspect of it," he said.

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