05/08/05 — Retirees express opinions on BRAC

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Retirees express opinions on BRAC

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on May 8, 2005 2:05 AM

Should Seymour Johnson Air Force Base close, thousands of military retirees in Wayne County wouldn't just be losing a place to get discounts on groceries and medical services.

They would be losing a big part of their lives, a connection to their past that they still hold close to their hearts.

"We'd be losing our centerpiece," retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Bill Reboli said. "Our community would be breaking up."

The base does more than offer retirees a place to buy cheap food and gas, military retirees said. It creates a community within a community, a focal point for former airmen, soldiers, Marines and sailors who want to stay in touch with the services to which they dedicated the best years of their lives.

Reboli is one of thousands of veterans who chose to make Wayne County their home after their military service was over. He was director of training for the 4th Fighter Wing, retiring in 1974. He and his family have lived in Goldsboro ever since.

Reboli said he would not be one of the retirees who would leave. He said he has sunk his roots too deep in Wayne County to pull them up now, but he said many retirees would probably consider moving away.

"The impact on retirees would be enormous," Reboli said. "Most of all, I think, it would be the change in the atmosphere. We older retirees still feel like we're members of the Air Force or Army or Navy." Without the base, he said, that feeling would wane.

If the base closes, "there will be a lot of retirees leaving the area for sure," said Gregg White, a retired Air Force master sergeant who has lived in Wayne since 1984. "I'd strongly consider leaving."

White said many retirees chose to live in Wayne after they left the military to take advantage of the services the base offers, especially its medical clinic and pharmacy. If the base goes, so do those benefits. Retirees would have to travel much farther to take advantage of the veterans' programs.

John Swink is a former Marine. A native of Hickory, he spent 22 years in the Corps, retiring as a gunnery sergeant. He and his family settled in Wayne in the 1990s after spending several years traveling around the country. Swink said the proximity to Seymour Johnson was a major reason they decided to live here. As he and his wife began to develop health problems, it became more important for them to be near affordable medical care like what is offered at the base, he said. Should the base be shut down, he said, that reason would disappear.

"I'd have to think about it," he said, referring to moving, "because there would be nothing here."

Carol Andrews and her husband, William, have lived in Wayne since he retired from the Air Force in 2000. A master sergeant, his last assignment was at Seymour Johnson, and they liked the area.

"We didn't want to move around anymore," she said.

The base and the fact that so many retirees live nearby made Wayne a desirable place to live and raise their children, she said.

"It keeps you in touch with what's going on in the military," Mrs. Andrews said, noting the strong ties that people develop during their years in service.

If the base closes, Mrs. Andrews said, they would have to take another look at their plans to make a life here.

"It would give you something to think about," she said. "I think it would be very sad."

Michael Posely retired from the Air Force as a tech sergeant after 20 years in the service. He said he first visited Seymour Johnson when he came from Pope Air Force Base to help repair a plane. A native of Greenville, S.C., he said he wanted to stay in the region after retirement so he and his wife could remain near their families. Wayne offered what they wanted, he said.

But if Seymour Johnson's name appears on the BRAC commission's "hit list," Posely said, he and his wife might have to sit down and consider moving somewhere else, where they could be closer to the benefits that a military base offers.

"It would have a big impact," he said.

Jose Vazquez is a retired Air Force master sergeant. He retired in 2001. He and his wife decided they liked Wayne County enough to make it their home.

"I liked the area," Vazquez said. "It's not too big. It's not too small."

He said his family makes use of the base commissary, recreation facilities and other amenities. But like many of those interviewed, he said it is the closeness of the military community that makes Wayne County special for those people who wore the uniform.

"I would hate to see it close," Vazquez said. "It's been part of a lot of people's lives for years."