Military Is Consolidating Into Large Installations

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 14, 2005; A10

In its first round of base closures in a decade, the Pentagon announced yesterday a sweeping plan to close or reduce forces at 62 major bases and nearly 800 minor facilities -- consolidating military capabilities in large installations that are best equipped to train and quickly deploy forces in wartime.

In contrast to prior rounds, this one will produce big winners in communities around the country as well as losers, as the Army beefs up its ranks and brings back about 70,000 troops from overseas, while the Navy shuts down large bases, shipyards and air stations.

The Pentagon's 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list would eliminate only 5 percent of the military's installation structure, as measured in replacement value. But it would amount to a large-scale reshuffling of forces to organize them for the type of conflicts envisioned over the next 20 years.

"The number of actions this time are far bigger, [and] the savings they are projecting are significantly larger," said Barry Holman, a Government Accountability Office expert on BRAC. The Pentagon anticipates nearly $49 billion in savings over two decades. The BRAC list now goes for review to an independent commission, which will present its recommendations in September to the president, who can either reject them or accept them entirely. Congress then must approve or reject the entire list without changes.

In effect, the Pentagon is trimming away hundreds of inefficient bits and pieces of its military infrastructure while concentrating its assets in big bases, where it can reap economies of scale. A major goal is for the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines to share facilities in joint, multi-service installations -- both to save money and benefit from closer cooperation.

For example, the Army's 7th Special Forces Group will move from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where it can train and prepare for operations together with Air Force special operations personnel. Eglin will establish a joint site where the Navy, Marines and Air Force can all train pilots for the new Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. The services will also share schools for subjects such as transportation and religion.

The growing Army will account for some of the biggest expansions under the plan as it increases the number of brigades stationed in the United States from 26 to 40. Fort Bliss, Tex., will gain a whopping 11,354 military personnel including the 1st Armored Division from Germany, and artillery and aviation units from other U.S. bases. Fort Benning, Ga., will gain 9,221 troops, while Fort Carson, Colo., adds 4,200 and Fort Riley, Kan., increases by 2,400.

The Army will also build 125 Armed Forces Reserve Centers to improve the ability of National Guard and reserve units to train, mobilize and deploy. Meanwhile, it will close 176 aging Army Reserve facilities and shrink regional reserve commands from 10 to four. The change aims to move reserve facilities closer to population centers that can better sustain their membership, said Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau. "The demographics that once supported those installations have migrated," he said.

The Army also faces the closure of 14 major bases -- defined as facilities with a plant replacement value of more than $100 million -- although most of the shutdowns involve industrial depots and institutional headquarters. Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, which houses schools and research centers in electronics and other fields, will close with the loss of 5,272 military and civilian employees.

The proposed closing of Fort Monmouth, an anchor of New Jersey's fast-growing economic corridor along the Atlantic Ocean, triggered protests yesterday, including an overflow rally at a local high school by members of Congress and state and local officials. "The decision to close Fort Monmouth is wrong for the military, wrong for national security and wrong for New Jersey," acting Gov. Richard J. Codey said. "We will fight this decision."

Officials of Monmouth County, where Fort Monmouth is the third-largest employer, said the base supports about 20,000 jobs besides its own workforce. The Pentagon estimates a maximum loss of 9,737 jobs from the fort and surrounding community in 2006 to 2011.

The Navy absorbs some of the biggest cutbacks, with 20 major base closures and realignments. These include several naval air stations, such as one in Brunswick, Maine, resulting in a loss of 2,420 jobs. Also slated for closure is Naval Shipyard Portsmouth in Kittery, Maine, with 4,510 jobs lost.

One of the largest single economic impacts would come from the closure of the submarine base in New London, Conn., with a projected loss of 8,457 jobs. The Navy plans to close the base to reduce surplus berthing capacity, while moving personnel and equipment to submarine bases in Georgia and Virginia.

Local workers plan to fight it. "We are going to open the eyes of the people who made this decision," said John Worobey, president of the Marine Draftsmen's Association, UAW Local 571, which has 500 members employed in submarine maintenance at the base. "It's almost like they don't like us up here," he said. The base was also proposed for closure in 1993.

Staff writer Dale Russakoff and special correspondents Kimberly Edds and Michelle Garcia contributed to this report.

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