State's military bases facing scrutiny

Published 6:15 am Wednesday, January 28, 2004

By Staff
When the recommendations of the next Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) are announced in September of 2005, there will be a potential impact upon Alabama. The "2005 BRAC round" will spell closure or downsizing for many military installations while benefiting others through mission growth. I believe Alabama is well poised to gain from the new BRAC and I am joining other state lawmakers in leaving nothing to chance as we approach this important decision.
Alabama's economic foundation has many pillars -- some well known such as agriculture and forestry -- and some emerging as in the case of our growing automobile manufacturing sector. Yet another, perhaps often overlooked, pillar has been a central source of economic stability for many decades. That stabilizing force is Alabama's four military bases.
The Second Congressional District is home to half of the state's military bases and has a lot riding on the BRAC commission's recommendations. Last week, I joined Governor Bob Riley, Senator Jeff Sessions, and Congressman Mike Rogers in touring Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and Fort Rucker in preparation for the new BRAC round.
While the new BRAC commission has yet to be organized, a number of factors it might use to determine the strength or weakness of a military base have been suggested by the Pentagon. These include: the base's future usefulness, the base's ability to accept new missions and availability of land and airspace for expansion, the base's cost of operations, local and community support, as well as the economic and environmental impact of a base's closing.
Alabama's four military installations are unique in both their mission and support. You would be hard pressed to find similar locations around the country suitable to house them and where they would enjoy the strong level of community backing.
Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base is the center of Air Force professional education and the home of the Air University and Air War College. Together with the Standards Systems Group (secure combat communications support) at Gunter Annex, and the 908th Air Reserve Airlift Unit, Maxwell has a $1.2 billion annual economic impact on central Alabama, employing nearly 13,000.
Since coming to Congress in 1993, I have secured nearly $270 million in military construction funds for Maxwell-Gunter and its facilities are among the most modern of any of America's top military installations. I've also supported upgrades for the 187th Fighter Wing of the Alabama Guard based at Montgomery Regional Airport.
Down in the Wiregrass, Fort Rucker is the home of U.S. Army Aviation and the only place where Army helicopter pilots learn to fly. It has not only been substantially modernized in the last 11 years, with more than $168 million I secured, but has ample room for mission growth both in the air and on the ground. With its access to urban and rural terrain and the Gulf of Mexico, its mission would be very difficult to relocate. Fort Rucker's annual economic impact approaches $1 billion and it employs over 12,000.
Efforts underway to protect and strengthen our bases through state and community involvement are right on the mark. The Governor has committed to identifying and correcting any weaknesses our bases might have and targeting missions elsewhere which might come to Alabama. To succeed, he'll require a team effort from our local, state and federal lawmakers. From what I've seen, we are off to a good start.