05/02/05 — Leaders pushing to keep base safe

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Leaders pushing to keep base safe

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on May 2, 2005 1:47 PM

After viewing the Web site created by an alliance of people fighting to keep Seymour Johnson Air Force Base from shutting down, you have to wonder why anyone is worried about the base's future.

Performance awards, combat experience, solid community relations, uniqueness of mission and location -- you name it, Seymour Johnson has it.

But the decision-makers on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission will have to consider closing some military bases in spite of their sparkling reputations, and that fact has thousands of people in Wayne County on edge as the first step of the process approaches.

And that first step is drawing even nearer than was once thought.

The Pentagon said last week that it could announce its list of bases recommended for closure by May 10. That is about a week earlier than officials had previously indicated.

The reason for moving up the date is that federal law requires the list be published in the Federal Register no later than May 16, a Monday. Military officials fear a leak of information over the weekend, and so they considered releasing the list on Friday.

But that is Friday the 13th. And superstitious officials don't want to break the news on that day for fear of the hard-luck headlines it could generate. So, the announcement will likely be made a few days earlier.

As the pressure builds, Wayne County leaders are looking for any edge they can get. Jimmie Edmundson, the president of the Seymour Johnson Alliance, said the Web site, www.seymourjohnsonalliance.com, was created by the alliance, with help from the county and the city of Goldsboro, to give military and political leaders more insight into why the base should not be considered for closure. The Web site, developed by a consulting firm, Capital Strategies of Raleigh, went online about two weeks ago.

During the last round of BRAC closings several years ago, some inaccurate information about Seymour Johnson was reported to the commission, Edmundson said. This time, Wayne leaders want no misunderstandings.

"We're providing as much information as we can to make their data-gathering as easy as possible," Edmundson said. "We want the BRAC commission to know everything we've already done to protect Seymour Johnson's mission."

"We feel like anything we can do to push Seymour Johnson will help," said Troy Pate, chairman and president of the Seymour Support Council.

After the list of bases recommended for closure or realignment is announced, a series of public hearings will be held across the country. A final list of bases will be presented to President Bush by Sept. 8. He must either approve the list or reject it by Sept. 23.

If Bush approves the list, it will be submitted to Congress, which then has 45 working days in which to either approve the list in its entirety or reject it.

Should the base close it would have a devastating effect on Wayne. The base pumps millions of dollars into the Wayne economy each year.

Seymour Johnson was first created as a training field during World War II. It was deactivated in 1946.

But in 1956, after a long campaign by Goldsboro and Wayne County leaders, the base was reopened as a full-fledged Air Force installation. It was named after a Goldsboro native and test pilot, Seymour Andrew Johnson, who was killed in a crash on the eve of World War II.

The base is currently the nation's only training facility for the F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet.