08/28/05 — Officials: BRAC decisions a victory

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Officials: BRAC decisions a victory

By Renee Carey
Published in News on August 28, 2005 2:04 AM

The news has been good so far for North Carolina military bases in general and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in particular, but there is still no reason to sit back and relax just yet, local and state officials said.

Friday's vote by the Base Realignment and Closure commission to move an engine repair facility from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to Seymour Johnson is a confirmation of the hard work done to make sure Wayne County's base stayed unscathed through the closure and realignment process, local and state officials say.

"North Carolina received more good news (Friday) when BRAC voted to establish a Centralized Intermediate Repair Facility for F100 engines at Seymour Johnson AFB by realigning base-level F100 engine intermediate maintenance from Langley AFB," said Troy Pate, co-chairman of the Governor's Military Advisory Commission and the chairman of the Seymour Support Council.

In addition to the Langley move, the commission also voted to send eight KC135R tankers, along with an associate active duty unit, from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota to the 916th Air Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson.

Both decisions were part of the announcements made earlier this year by the BRAC commission regarding Seymour Johnson, but even though the initial news was good for the base, that doesn't mean local and state officials just waited for the commissioners to rubberstamp the findings this week.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue said many hours of work went into making sure the commission knew just how much this state valued its military bases and the personnel who work there.

She said the process began two years ago this November, when state and business leaders gathered for a military summit in Fayetteville to discuss the impact of the state's bases on the economy.

"We wanted to convince people that the military is one of the biggest businesses in the state," she said. "Our people value more than just the defense. We value the economic impact as well."

North Carolina's military bases represent $18 billion in revenue and 350,000 civilian jobs, Perdue said.

She said if Seymour Johnson had been closed, Wayne County would have been seriously injured.

"We would have recovered. We always recover in Eastern North Carolina, but it would have taken a lifetime," she said.

Although she said the BRAC decisions were not all good news for North Carolina, Pope Air Force Base only got some concessions, Perdue said, overall, the Air Force hearings brought relief for many communities.

"At the end of the day, it is a huge win for North Carolina," she said.

But although they were confident they had done the work necessary to protect the bases, Perdue said she and local officials held their breath when the initial BRAC announcements were made in April.

"The Wednesday and Thursday before the announcement, Troy (Pate) and I were on the phone two or three times," she said. "The next day was a tough day."

But afterward, the state got to work, both Republicans and Democrats, to make sure the bases would stay off the list.

"Everybody set aside their differences and said 'this is for North Carolina,"" she said. "We already had a plan, we just kept going."

Pate said preparation was the key not only to protecting Seymour Johnson, but the state's other military bases as well.

"As we heard throughout the BRAC deliberations over the last several days, access to unencumbered airspace and freedom from encroachment were essential in the (commission's) decision to keep bases open and adding to their mission," he said. "We've done a good job in North Carolina working on the issues of airspace and encroachment, but we must do more."

And that is on the Lieutentant Governor's mind as well. She says the work is not over. In addition to protecting the bases from future cuts, she also wants to bring more military dollars to the state.

That will wait until President George W. Bush signs off on the final BRAC commission recommendations when he gets them Sept. 8.

"On Sept. 9, the first thing we will do is (start working) on how to grow the private parts of the military economy," Perdue said.

An incubator in Fayetteville is already trying to come up with research and development ideas that could bring military-related business to North Carolina and more federal dollars here. The state is also trying to foster connections between small businesses that already exist and the military purchasers.

"If someone is going to make underwear for Sey-mour Johnson, shouldn't it be someone in North Carolina?" she said.

Pate also cautioned that the work is not over. Making sure North Carolina stays on top requires continued local and state efforts.

"These decisions (Friday) by the BRAC commission represent another step in this latest BRAC round, but they are not final," he said. "We must remain vigilant through the remaining steps in the BRAC process, which will not end for another five months."