The Pentagon sees it as a hopeful sign that it now has allies in Washington, but what about the rest of us?
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has proclaimed that his suggestion to Congress that they bring back BRAC (Base Realignment And Closure) was ‘not-at-all-political [sic].’ Secretary Panetta has been a deal-making politician his entire life and my series, The Sounds of Silence, began with a discussion of one of Panetta’s earlier travesties, the closure of Fort Ord, California, in 1991.
Communities economically dependent on their hometown military bases believing they are essential and that their base will never close should think again. That’s what we believed about Fort Ord. We were Seventh Infantry Light. No one had the training opportunities we did. No one could deploy as quickly. The reasons we’d never close were endless. And yet we did.
Millions were spent building new family housing units and hundreds of miles of new and improved roads. A pre-school for hundreds of children was built and by the time it was completed the children were gone. Because the monies had been allocated before Ford Ord landed on the closure list, the tax dollars were spent.
It’s easy to be in denial when new construction is going on all around you.
Members of Congress promise they’ll make you safe but they can’t. Moreover, these are the years of trading favors and trading the closure of a military base equates to power brokering.
New York Rep. Kathy Hochul told airmen at Niagara Falls Air Force Base that she and the rest of the delegation “would fight until the bitter end” to keep their base open.
Maine’s and New Hampshire’s Senate delegations teamed up to announce, “Portsmouth Naval Shipyard must not close. They’ve provided an irreplaceable component of our nation’s security.” “No one in the country does what they do as well as they do it,” said a joint statement from Sens. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte.
The same was said about Fort Ord, California. No one does it better.
Congressional delegates from numerous states publicly announced their intentions in the past few weeks. Now the big question for the Pentagon is whether its base-closure threat can energize enough people beyond the usual defense lawmakers to make a difference when the time comes to count votes.
Additionally, if the military is forced to execute a RIF (Reduction In Force) I’m not comfortable with the idea that we’ll have a world-class Armed Forces.
Secretary Panetta’s announced plan is that tomorrow’s military will be: “a smaller, agile, highly technical force, rebalanced to the Pacific while maintaining a focus on the Middle East. This force, while maintaining and developing partnerships around the world, will be able to defeat any adversary anywhere, as the department invests in cyber, space and mobile capabilities.”
I can’t help but believe that if we had retained some of our former military strength—the strength our former Congress gave away when bases were closed in the 1990s drawdown—we would have had fewer return deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan per service member. There’s something fundamentally wrong when a service member returns to a war zone multiple times.
There’s also something wrong when the number of Reservists and National Guard deployed to a war zone is escalated to the point that we don’t have enough help on the home front for natural disasters.
Then again, isn’t it wrong to be at war for ten years?
And let’s not forget the economic and ecological fallout of closing a base. Secretary Panetta fails to mention the exorbitant cost of cleaning up hazardous materials at Fort Ord and other locations on his earlier hit lists. Even now, decades later, of the 27,827 acres that made up Fort Ord, California, only 20% has been secured from hazardous materials, i.e. unexploded weapons, tons of asbestos and lead, gasoline-based sealants, etc. for redevelopment. I’ll delve deeper into the Fort Ord closure—including the cost to date—in my fourth blog in this series, The Sounds of Silence.
But, next up, I’ve come across a proposed Tri Care mental health care contract that leaves me seriously concerned. Mental health care is of utmost importance today, more so than ever, largely due to repeated deployments and the length of time we’ve been at war.
Please join me for this continuing series on the current 2012 military drawdown to include Tri Care and other benefits.