06/29/05 — Dole praises commission for decision on Seymour

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Dole praises commission for decision on Seymour

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on June 29, 2005 1:45 PM

CHARLOTTE -- Sen. Elizabeth Dole told members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission on Tuesday that Pentagon recommendations to expand Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and other military installations in North Carolina represent sound judgment.

But she said a proposal to move the 43rd Airlift Wing from Pope was based on faulty logic.

The BRAC commission heard from representatives from North and South Carolina and West Virginia, most trying to save bases recommended for closure.

The hearing was one of 16 to be held around the country as the commission considers which bases should be closed or have their missions reduced.

Under the Pentagon's proposal, Seymour Johnson's mission would be increased, with a proposed gain of 362 total jobs divided be-tween military personnel and civilians. In addition, the base would become the home for eight more KC-135R refueling planes, which would come from Grand Forks, N.D., and an engine repair facility, which would move from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

Troy Pate, chairman of the N.C. Commission on Military Affairs, represented Goldsboro and Wayne County before the BRAC commission.

"Our community supports the Department of Defense's recommendation to add additional missions to Seymour Johnson. Someone once said 'respect and responsibility are not granted. but earned.' We believe that Seymour Johnson has earned the respect and responsibilty necessary for additional missions."

Pate noted Seymour Johnson's ratings against other bases in a recent Air Force Times article. "Seymour Johnson scored highest as a fighter, bomber and unmanned aerial vehicle base. It also finished second in airlift, and fourth in special operations and combat search and rescue among other bases," he said.

He called Seymour Johnson "critical to our nation's defense structure."

Pate also heralded the relationship between the military and community around Seymour Johnson.

"For us, the gates to Seymour Johnson are just a physical barrier. We consider the base and its personnel an integral part of our daily lives," he said. He also said many Air Force retirees continue to make Wayne County their home.

Sen. Dole and other North Carolina officials urged the commission to reconsider a recommendation to place Pope under Army command and move more than 4,000 Air Force personnel from the base, with the 43rd Airlift Wing's C-130 cargo planes shifting to Arkansas.

They also argued against a plan to move some aircraft maintenance responsibilities from the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, which would cost 630 civilian jobs, and a plan to close the Army Research Office in Durham's Research Triangle Park and move it to Maryland, where similar offices for the Air Force and Navy are already located.

Dole, Gov. Mike Easley and Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue reminded commission members of North Carolina's long-time support for the military. She pointed out that President Bush chose Fort Bragg as the location from which to make a speech marking the first anniversary of the handing over of power to the Iraqi government.

"The fact that the president of the United States chose to commemorate this historic event from a North Carolina base is testament to the value our bases hold for this nation's defense," she said.

"Our installations are a model for joint interoperability and readiness," Sen. Dole said.

Easley noted the importance of the military to North Carolina's economy.

"The impact of the military on North Carolina's economy totals more than $18 billion each year. Military personnel and their families are truly the backbone and the lifeblood for many of North Carolina's communities," he said.

Officials from South Carolina and West Virginia lobbied on behalf of their military bases.

South Carolina's leaders said they were generally pleased with the Pentagon's proposals, which left major installations mostly untouched and would result in a net gain of more than 700 jobs for the state.

"Generally speaking, the Department of Defense got things right," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said.

However, the Pentagon proposed closing Charleston, S.C.'s Defense Finance and Accounting Service and the South Naval Facilities Engineering Command and moving their jobs elsewhere.

Bill Lewis, a retired naval captain from Charleston, said the Defense Department's plan to close the engineering command is expensive and offers few benefits.

"This BRAC proposal would never have made it out of the corporate boardroom," Lewis said.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, trying to save the state's Air National Guard 130th Airlift Wing, told commissioners West Virginia lost more soldiers per capita during Vietnam than any other state in the nation.

West Virginia focused on the effort to save eight C-130 cargo planes that the Pentagon has recommended be moved from Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.Va., to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd said he is concerned that aircraft are being taken from 28 Air National Guard bases around the country, including Yeager's 130th Airlift Wing.

"If the Pentagon's BRAC recommendations were implemented, the loss of eight C-130 aircraft from Charleston would have a dramatic impact on the ability of our governor and the West Virginia National Guard to respond to local emergencies," Byrd said.

Air Force Maj. Kevin Ray told the commissioners that statistics the Air National Guard provided to the Pentagon before its recommendations inaccurately stated there is room for only eight C-130s at Yeager. In fact, he said, 12 C-130s can be housed at the airport.

BRAC representatives at the hearing were Philip E. Coyle, James T. Hill, Harold W. Gehrman, and Samuel Skinner.

Coyle, who served as chairman of the panel, assured those in attendance that the commission was committed to examining the Secretary of Defense's recommendations and holding them against the criteria of the BRAC process.

"We have a responsibility to the men and women who bring the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to life to demand the best possible use of limited resources," Coyle said.