Base Closures: A Community Perspective
Not surprisingly, most of the reaction to today’s announcement of the bases the Pentagon has targetted for closure and realignment is focused on the state-by-state impact. A check on the topic at GoogleNews will reveal dozens of such stories. There’s a reason that the official list [PDF] was released state-by-state rather than facility-by-facility.
Since I lived in Alabama roughly a third of my life and my parents still live there–indeed, my dad retired at Fort McClellan, one of the bases killed in the last round of BRAC–this story is particularly interesting to me. Not to mention that one of the interviewees is Dr. Don Snow, my dissertation director at Alabama.
Alabama escaped any major military base closing Friday under the Pentagon’s strategic review, with Redstone Arsenal, Fort Rucker and Anniston Army Depot gaining jobs but Maxwell Air Force Base losing some in a realignment. The Pentagon’s list showed Maxwell losing 1,251 jobs – 740 military and 511 civilian – but the other three major bases in Alabama each gaining more than 1,000 jobs, with the Army air training center at Fort Rucker gaining the most with 1,888. It appeared Fort Rucker would expand its helicopter training role for the military and Anniston would do likewise with vehicle maintenance – signs they may avoid being targeted for cuts in the future.
Anniston Army Depot, with a military and civilian work force of about 3,560, would gain the biggest percentage increase with 1,034 new civilian workers. Redstone Arsenal, with about 19,000 jobs on its sprawling site at Huntsville, would gain a net of 1,655, most of them listed as mission contractor posts.
Few details were available Friday morning concerning what missions the bases involved were gaining or losing. But the new civilian jobs at the Anniston Army Depot are apparently the result of the decision to close Red River Army Depot near Texarkana, Texas. State Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, said local officials have been told the depot would be picking up missions currently performed at Red River. The Anniston depot performs maintenance on tanks and other heavy-tracked combat vehicles and Red River has a similar mission on a smaller scale. Wood said the jobs were badly needed in the Anniston area, hit hard economically in recent years by the closing of the Army’s Fort McClellan and several plant closings. “Now people will have another place to try to get jobs to help their families,” Wood said.
“I tell you what, this knocks my socks off,” Ozark Mayor Bob Bunting said after learning that adjacent Fort Rucker, where the Army trains helicopter pilots and other aviation personnel, would be gaining almost 2,000 military and civilian jobs. Bunting said he had expected small gains for Fort Rucker, but nothing like what was announced Friday. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said most of the military helicopter training in the country would be consolidated at Fort Rucker under the Pentagon’s recommendations. “We thought for some time that was the appropriate and the right thing,” Sessions said. “I’m glad to see the BRAC process agreed.”
Donald Snow, a political science professor at the University of Alabama who specializes in military and national security issues, said consolidating helicopter training at Fort Rucker and tracked vehicle maintenance at the Anniston Army Depot should keep those installations off of future base closure lists. […] Snow said Alabama came out as a winner in the process. But he said the decision to close Army Reserve and National Guard centers in Alabama and other states could hurt recruiting at a time when the Guard and Reserve are playing a large role in the war in Iraq. “The effect of these closings in that it’s going to make it more inconvenient for people to go to Reserve and Guard duty. If have to drive 15 minutes you might join, but if you have to drive 45 minutes you might not,” Snow said.
Such discussions are going on in hundreds of communities across the country today. They’re either fearful of losing jobs if the proposed cuts are approved, joyous at being a realignment benefactor, or relieved at not being on the list at all.
Indeed, my office was abuzz today about the list, even though we weren’t directly affected. We’re housed in commercial office space and the facility is new enough that it conforms to post-9/11 Pentagon security guidelines. Many housed in facilities that are too close to roads, especially Crystal City and other Arlington, Virginia sites, are going to be among the 22,000-odd Virginia area employees relocated onto military installations such as Fort Belvoir in the coming years.