Colorado bases don’t expect to be targets for closure | SummitDaily.com

Colorado bases don’t expect to be targets for closure

PAM ZUBECK
The Gazette

Vehicles wait to enter Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., Mon. May 9, 2005. U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said he doesn't expect Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska's major military installation, to appear on the Defense Department's list of recommended base closings this week.(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

COLORADO SPRINGS ” Communities across the country are bracing for what could be devastating or exhilarating news this week when the Pentagon is expected to unveil its recommendations for which military bases should close.

Colorado Springs’ four Air Force installations and one Army post appear safe, because of development in the past decade and their missions.

In fact, the local facilities could grow because of cutbacks elsewhere.

The Pentagon had hoped to trim 24 percent of its domestic base square footage ” about 100 of the nation’s 425 bases. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said last week that the cuts would be less than half the original goal. Reasons include a need to accommodate up to 70,000 troops being relocated from bases in Asia and Europe, and the government’s desire to move some defense workers from leased to government-owned space.

But some experts say the Pentagon will still submit a hefty list to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. BRAC, which usually agrees with most of the Pentagon’s recommendations, must submit its list to President Bush by Sept. 8.

“There is plenty of pressure on the budget, and base closings are an important way to reduce operating costs,” said Barry Blechman, head of Washington think tank DFI International and a member of the Defense Policy Board that advises the defense secretary.

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“If you look at the test ranges, labs, administrative headquarters and possibility of consolidating reserve facilities, there’s probably going to be a substantial proposal from the department,” Blechman said.

Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., agreed. “That will mean many thousands of jobs going away or going other places,” she said.

Since 1988, the process has shelved 352 major and minor bases and installations, with savings approaching $30 billion, which doesn’t include the cost of environmental cleanup. The last round of closures was in 1995.

Colorado has lost three bases: Pueblo Army Depot in 1988, except the mustard gas stockpiles, Lowry Air Force Base in Denver in 1991 and Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in Aurora in 1995.

The latest round, aimed at freeing money for weapons systems and the creation of a more agile force, could mean growth for Colorado Springs-area bases.

“There’s a widespread belief within the Pentagon that Colorado Springs is likely to be a gainer rather than a loser,” Thompson said.

Fort Carson, the largest area installation, appears protected from closure and poised for growth. Rumors have circulated for months that Carson could be the destination of a division relocating from Europe.

In the past decade, its railyard got a $40 million face-lift after it was noted as a weakness during the last closure round. The improvements are crucial, because a weak rail link would slow deployment.

Carson is a test site for privately built and maintained military housing, the first of its size in the military, and recently got hundreds of new units. Plans call for spending $26 million more on barracks.

In June 1999, the post became home to the 7th Infantry Division, which puts active-duty commanders in charge of 12,000 National Guard troops in three other states. As the armed forces rely more heavily on guard and reserve troops, such training facilities become crucial.

More recently, Carson was designated as the base for more than 3,600 soldiers in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Deployed to Iraq from South Korea last year, the unit will return here this summer.

And the post boasts 237,000-acre Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, near Rocky Ford, second in size only to the Army’s National Training Center in the southeastern California desert. It would be difficult to replace.

As for the Air Force, Peterson Air Force Base, home to Air Force Space Command, has been considered as a possible home for the Los Angeles Air Force Base Space and Missile Center, identified by experts as a prime closure target.

Peterson is uniquely situated to fend off closure because it hosts the newest unified command, U.S. Northern Command, which opened in 2002 and is in charge of homeland defense. The base also includes the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which also operates from Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.

NORAD and NorthCom are in the middle of a $50 million construction upgrade, including installation of a top-security communications systems. Schriever Air Force Base, part of Space Command, is critical to operating the nation’s satellite constellations.

“Every base in Colorado we have remaining is very important and pertinent to today’s military mission, whether Army or Air Force,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo.

Christopher Hellman, military policy analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., predicts a clamoring when the list comes out.

“Communities that have bases on that list will throw everything at the commission” to get off the list, he said. Past commissions, though, have followed the Pentagon’s lead 80 percent of the time, he said.