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Closing Kelly: Three Priorities

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Dec. 11, 1996 – After Kelly Air Force Base was selected for closure and realignment by the 1995 Base Closure and Realignment Commission, military and civilian leaders got together to plan for the future.

"Our top priority is protecting Air Force readiness," said Tommy Jordan, director of privatization and realignment for the base. "Our second priority is taking care of our people, and our third priority is taking care of the community."


Maintaining readiness meant keeping the work force motivated, and few doubted that would be difficult, Jordan said. As it turned out, the giant C-5 maintenance depot at Kelly, slated for privatization in 1997, had its best year ever.


Under base realignment and closure rules, the depot can be privatized in place or at another site. If a private sector company wins the contract, the work most likely will remain at Kelly, and most of the current work force members will be hired to perform their old jobs under new management. However, if a public or military depot wins the contract, the workload will leave Kelly, and most of the workers will facefinding new jobs, officials said.


While members of Jordan's office and their counterparts in the city's redevelopment corporation hope to keep the workload at Kelly, Col. Pete Hennessey's primary concern is sustaining the mission.


"My role as the Air Force business manager for C-5s is to make sure our operational customers have uninterrupted service at a level of quality that meets their needs," said Hennessey, director of the C-5 systems program. To meet mission requirements, Hennessey faced convincing his employees to remain mission-focused.


"After the BRAC announcement, we gathered in a hangar, and there were a lot of tears flowing," Hennessey recalled. "'It's going to be a terrible, turbulent time, but we're not the only ones in America going through it,' we told them. We urged our managers and employees to maintain their dignity and self-respect."


Part of the turbulence the employees face is a basewide reduction in force. Initial notices have already gone out, with the actual reduction scheduled for March 1998. Kelly managers wanted to give the employees enough advance notice so they could begin preparing for their futures.


Such concern for people, coupled with frequent meetings between managers and workers, have served to retain the workers' job motivation. In November, Hennessey traveled to Air Force Materiel Command headquarters in Ohio to receive a plaque honoring the C-5 depot as the best weapon system sustainment program in the Air Force for 1996.


"Over the past year, we turned out 48 consecutive airplanes with no customer-reported defects," Hennessey said. "When you consider the C-5 requires up to 12,000 individual maintenance operations and they say nothing's wrong with it, that's pretty remarkable. What's even more remarkable is the focus of the work force in sticking with the customer."


While Kelly waits to learn the fate of C-5 maintenance, the base has gone all out to prepare employees for their next jobs. For example, C-5 maintenance employees can visit an office at their workplace to get help with employment applications and resumes. During a week when the center hosted potential private employers for a close-up look at Kelly facilities and people, it also conducted a job fair.


And while a fair and impartial competition will ultimately decide where C-5 maintenance will be performed, Kelly managers have done all they can to keep the workload in place. One month after the July 1995 base closure commission announcement, they contacted prospective private employers for ideas about how the C-5 maintenance business could be packaged for transition to another employer and what risks were involved.


The Kelly managers then invited the same group of employers to tour the base facility. Next, they brought in people from the Air Force's Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center to train the Kelly contracting staff in putting together good commercial bid packages. Finally, they brought back industry representatives last September for a full week.


"The first two days, we placed our key experts in all our facilities, then turned over the facilities to all prospective offerors," Hennessey said. "They had the run of the property. They could check out the facilities and ask any questions. We tried to foster an air of openness and partnership."


The next couple of days, Hennessey's staff reviewed and dissected prior-year performances, showing the visitors cost and labor figures, safety results and labor relations practices. "We gave them a full, inside look at our business," the colonel said. "We want to make sure whoever bids to take over this business understands it."


While Hennessey focused on the mission, Jordan and his city counterparts have their fingers crossed that all these efforts will keep the maintenance program at Kelly.


"Anything we can do to retain or create jobs will minimize the economic impact on the community," Jordan said. "We're constrained by environmental protection rules and impact studies we have to complete before we can establish long-term leases with the community or commercial vendors." In the interim, the Kelly Redevelopment Authority established short-term contracts with two companies. Each will bring about 100 jobs to the base, Jordan said.


"At a normal BRAC closure, within 18 to 24 months of the decision, the military mission moves, the people move, and we turn the empty base over to the community for economic redevelopment," Jordan said. "Because of the size of the air logistics center and the presidential commitment to retain jobs here, we're dragging out the process roughly four more years. That mitigates the economic impact on the community, but it introduces another level of complexity to the process."


To keep everyone informed of progress, Jordan's office publishes a weekly newsletter that goes to everyone in his chain of command from DoD down. For its part, the city maintains a close working relationship with the Air Force at Kelly. "We have different goals," said Paul Roberson, executive director of San Antonio's Greater Kelly Redevelopment Corp. "We've just got to figure out ways to compromise so that everyone's goals can be dealt with."


The only way redevelopment will occur is by both sides working together, Roberson added. "A number of communities at other BRAC locations tore themselves apart with different factions," Roberson said. "As a result, they've delayed redevelopment for years. You have to get the community involved early, to structure a way to build a consensus, a direction and vision everybody buys into and supports."

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