Potomac News Online | BRAC report out Friday

WASHINGTON — Starr Whitmore owns a coffeehouse in Goldsboro, N.C., and Paul Hirsch is a Washington lobbyist, and even though they do not know each other, both are anxiously waiting for Friday — BRAC Day — the day the Pentagon releases its list of base-closure recommendations.

In hundreds of cities and towns where the military is a neighbor, Friday will be a day of emotions ranging from fear to elation to relief.

“People have been holding their breaths (waiting for the announcement),” said Whitmore, whose coffeehouse is near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Hirsch was suffering “nervous anticipation” on Wednesday. He represents community groups hoping to keep their hometown bases off the BRAC chopping block.

The Pentagon, for the first time in 10 years, is downsizing its vast array of military bases in a process known as base realignment and closure. Friday’s list will be the Department of Defense recommendation to close bases and move units to different locations.

The list will be submitted to the nine-member, independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The panel will analyze the Pentagon’s list, hold hearings and, by Sept. 8, submit a final list to the president and Congress, which must approve or reject the list on an “all-or-nothing” basis.

The Pentagon will use military precision for Friday’s announcement.

Congress will get the first look at the list that morning via electronic mail. Minutes later, a company of military honor guards will blitzkrieg Capitol Hill to deliver printed copies. The public will get access it an hour later via the Internet at the Pentagon’s Defenselink Web site: https://www.defenselink.mil/brac/.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants to cut and consolidate bases in hope of saving billions and transforming the military by shedding its Cold War legacy of large military units. In its place he wants agile units capable of quick military action.

The Pentagon has estimated that it has 24 percent more property than needed. With nearly 200 large- and medium-sized installations and more than 3,500 smaller ones in the United States, the estimate suggested hundreds of bases would be posting “closed” signs. This week, however,

officials backed away from that estimate

“That number was never meant to suggest nor did it ever suggest that one-in-four bases would be closed,” said Phil Grone, the

Pentagon’s point man on BRAC.

Until Friday, no one outside the Pentagon will know how many bases will be affected.

The deciding factor on closing or realigning a base will be its military value, officials said. Bases are to be judged on war fighting, training and readiness impacts. Unlike the previous four base-closure rounds between 1988 and 1995, lesser weight will be given to economic and environmental impacts.

In Washington, an army of lobbyists is ready for battle. Despite confidence that his clients’ installations will do well Friday, Hirsch and his firm will jump to “full battle stations” as soon as the list is released.

Starting within minutes of the announcement, lobbyists will be busy holding strategy sessions with clients, analyzing megabytes of Pentagon data and preparing testimony for hearings before the commission.

That pace may not let up until late August or early September, when the commission submits the final list.

Until then, local officials, business owners and residents will be anxiously watching the proceedings.

Whitmore, who owns Grounds for Expression Coffeehouse a block from Seymour Johnson’s main gate, hopes the airfield will escape BRAC with no more than a shift from F-16 fighter jets to giant C-5 cargo planes on the tarmac. About 50 percent of her business comes from the base, which has 5,200 airmen and about 400 civilian employees.

She said local business owners are anxious but believe the base and town will survive. When the buzz about BRAC started months ago, Whitmore said, “I got the shaky knees at the beginning, but I’m an optimist.”

Seventy miles southeast of Goldsboro, the residents of Havelock also are “cautiously optimistic” about the future of Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, said Jimmy Sanders, who heads a local group fighting to preserve the base.

The base, which hosts Marine Harrier jump jets and Prowler radar-jamming aircraft, is also the home of a naval aviation depot that repairs helicopters. Sanders worries the plant, which employs more than 4,000 civilians, could be moved to another base.

“We still feel that we’ll do okay,” he said. “We’re looking for a good Friday. We’re not expecting a black Friday.”


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