By Liz Sidoti: The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The shifting of troops and jobs from the Northeast to the Sunbelt and the West. The consolidation of scores of Reserve and Guard sites across the map. Mergers throughout the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to create super-sized multipurpose bases.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is proposing to close and shrink hundreds of bases to create a leaner, more cost-effective force. If accepted, the plan would alter the domestic military landscape and greatly affect the four service branches and communities that are home to the installations.
Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are to testify Monday before a congressionally chartered commission that will review the base closing proposal before sending it to President Bush this fall.
The plan recommends closing or reducing forces at 62 major bases and reconfiguring hundreds of others — 775 “minor closures and realignments” to be exact — to save billions of dollars a year.
Seeking to free up money to improve warfighting capabilities, the Pentagon wants to eliminate inefficient bases, streamline services and promote “jointness” among the military branches. At the same time, the military is trying to reposition troops — in the United States and abroad — to face current threats.
“The president charged the secretary with moving our military into the 21st century and moving us beyond the Cold War. This is a significant part of that,” said Powell Moore, an assistant defense secretary during Bush’s first term.
On the chopping block are two major New England bases — the submarine base at Groton, Conn., and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine — that supporters say are economic engines of the Northeast. Analysts say the bases were essential decades ago to defend against threats, mainly from the Soviets, that no longer are prevalent.
The Pentagon projects that closing the two major bases and several smaller military sites in Connecticut and Maine would mean the loss of nearly 30,000 jobs — on and off the bases. Work would shift to facilities in Norfolk, Va. and Kings Bay, Ga., defense officials say, which already provide enough fleet coverage for the Eastern seaboard.
Under the plan, bases in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama would add thousands of troops, with affected communities gaining at least 35,000 total new jobs — and an economic shot in the arm. The Pentagon estimates job creation or loss on bases by changes in the number of uniformed, civilian and contractor jobs. For jobs off base, the calculation is made on the basis of changes in the military presence.
Bases in Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas — where land is cheaper and plentiful — would see increases, too.
Both regions would absorb troops from other domestic bases set to be closed or reduced, and from Europe and Asia, where about 170,000 U.S. troops and their families are stationed. They will be returning home as the Pentagon adjusts its worldwide presence.
In the United States, “the military is moving south, it’s moving west,” said Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va.
Also, military missions spread throughout the United States to defend against a Soviet nuclear attack would merge, sometimes at super-sized installations, according to Rumsfeld’s plan.
For example, the F-16 fighter planes at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, would be used to bolster F-16 bases elsewhere and the B-1 strategic bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D., would move to the other B-1 base, Dyess, near Abilene, Texas.
Many tiny Reserve and National Guard facilities also would be centralized.
Rumsfeld proposed more cost-effective operations by combining medical buildings, accounting offices, training installations, education facilities, and bases focused on technology initiatives.
The Pentagon estimates the closures would save $48 billion over 20 years.