05/19/04 — Jones bill would delay base closing process for two years

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Jones bill would delay base closing process for two years

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on May 19, 2004 2:00 PM

The House Armed Services Committee has approved a bill that would delay the base-closure process for two years.

And in the Senate, a proposal has been put forth to make the closing process only for U.S. bases in foreign countries.

For now, the base-closure process is scheduled for 2005, and Pentagon officials have said that up to 25 percent of the bases in the country would be closed or realigned.

The same bill that includes delaying the process includes $35 million for Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Of that amount, $32.7 million would be used for 167 family housing units and $2.3 million for Reserve security forces operations. Here is a breakdown of what other bases in the state would receive from the bill if it passes:

*Camp Lejeune -- Armory Camp Geiger -- $4 million; Combat Training Pool -- $2.4 million; Explosive Ordnance Disposal Facility -- $4.6 million

*Cherry Point -- Slocum Village Replacement, Phase 3 (198 Units) -- $27 million; Replace Fuel Hydrant System -- $22.7 million

*New River -- Addition to Simulator Building -- $2.3 million; Aircraft Maintenance Training Facility --$12 million; Bachelor Enlisted Quarters -- $20.8 million

The House Armed Services Committee recommended increasing the maximum amount of hardship-duty pay from $300 to $750 per month. It also funded the Bush administration's request of adding $72.2 million for classroom and educational activities.

Several initiatives authored by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones have been included in the Defense Authorization Act.

The amendments would ease the travel burdens placed on recently retired military who suffered combat-related injuries, protect voluntary prayer in military service academies and rename the title of the Secretary of the Navy to Secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps.

Jones also said he was concerned about the Pentagon using civilian chaplains.

"One of the chaplains' most valuable qualities is that they are trained by the service they represent," he said. "These men and woman are more than just priests, reverends or rabbis; they are also soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. The chaplains and the troops share a symbolic bond. They are 'brothers-in-arms.'"

Another provision would study whether recently retired veterans should receive travel reimbursement for seeking treatment for combat injuries at veterans' hospitals. Under current law, servicemen and women returning from Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom must wait three to six months before they are placed into the Veterans Affairs system. Jones believes they should be reimbursed for those travel expenses during that time.

"I'm confident that this study will force the Pentagon to open their eyes and realize that former service personnel who suffered serious injuries in defense of this nation are having to pay their travel expenses to receive specialty health care," said Jones.