July 19, 2005
Pope, AFIT added to list
of potential base closures
By Gordon Trowbridge
Times staff writer
The independent base closings panel on Tuesday added Pope Air Force Base and the Air Force Institute of Technology to a list of potential closings, but left several other Air Force proposals unchanged.
The Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission only briefly addressed the most controversial aspect of the Air Force’s base-closings plan: the proposed shift of hundreds of Air National Guard aircraft from bases around the country.
Tuesday’s votes do not mean definite closure for any of the dozens of installations considered. They merely add bases to the hundreds of closing and restructuring recommendations proposed by the Department of Defense. Seven votes from the nine-member panel were required to add an installation Tuesday, and another seven are needed to include those additions in a final list due in September.
The vote on Pope allows the commission to consider rejecting a Pentagon plan to turn the base’s real estate over to neighboring Fort Bragg, but to base 16 Air Force C-130 cargo planes there as a tenant unit.
The Pentagon plan would move Pope’s current fleet of C-130s and A-10 attack planes to other locations, and move 16 C-130s from reserve-component bases in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to what would become an Army-operated air field. The movement of Air National Guard planes embroils Pope in the ongoing Guard controversy, in which several state governments have objected to removal of planes from their Guard units.
One commissioner, retired Adm. Harold Gehman, objected to adding Pope. “We’re taking one little piece of this Air National Guard mess we have,” which makes little sense, Gehman said.
Other commissioners suggested that by adding Pope to the list, the panel would allow its staff to perform research that would shed light on the Guard controversy. That led to a long and sometimes confused conversation on the proposal. Chairman Anthony Principi called for a vote, “there being no confusion whatsoever,” a joke that brought laughter from the hearing room.
The panel also voted to examine consolidation of three military postgraduate schools: AFIT at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; and the Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute, both in Monterey, Calif. The commissioners discussed placing all three at a site in California, but some, including retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd Newton, said they wanted to consider other locations.
Commissioners also voted to consider closing Galena Forward Operation Location, Alaska, an alert base for air-defense aircraft. The commission seems likely to shift that operation to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, which under Pentagon plans will remain open mostly as host for Cope Thunder exercises.
The panel rejected proposals to add Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., for further review.
Commission staff had suggested Moody as a possible location for Navy aircraft from Oceana Naval Air Station, which the panel added to the closings list on Tuesday. That would have required movement of several Air Force units from the base. But, ultimately, the panel decided Moody was a poor fit for the Navy’s carrier aircraft. Grand Forks would lose its current fleet of KC-135 tankers under the Pentagon’s plan, but remain open for Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles, which Air Force officials say they want to add at the base. Commissioners had worried that the UAV plans were not solid enough to leave the base open, but ultimately decided the promises of Vice Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley during testimony on Monday were sufficient.
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