By Marlena Hartz
Far fewer military bases are likely to be closed and realigned than originally foreseen, in part because of the planned shift of tens of thousands of troops from bases in Asia and Europe to the United States, according to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld said surplus base capacity is not as great as earlier estimated.
“Without final figures, I would say the percent will be less than half of the 20 to 25 percent that has been characterized previously,” Rumsfeld said in a conference call Thursday with newspaper editorial writers across the country.
Rumsfeld had previously said the current round of base closings and realignment — the first since 1995 — would result in less shrinkage of base capacity than the 20 to 25 percent figure the Pentagon has cited for the past few years. But he had not previously said it might be less than half that range.
Rumsfeld’s assessment is comforting news for supporters of Cannon Air Force Base.
“I think it’s great news,” said Randy Harris, chairman of the Washington Committee, a subdivision of Clovis Committee of Fifty, a group of volunteers dedicated to the support of Cannon Air Force Base. “It shows a realization of the need for bases located across the United States, especially those in the western United States that don’t have encroachment problems and that will meet the needs of the military 10-15 years from now.”
Rumsfeld previously has said that U.S. military bases have 25 percent more capacity than they need, raising fears that the upcoming round of base closings could be far more severe than four previous rounds.
Clovis Mayor David Lansford believes Cannon Air Force Base stands head and shoulders above other air force installations.
“The odds are in our favor. We are in a better position in terms of percentage of base closings, but how much of a better position, no one knows,” Harris said.
In spite of a tentatively optimistic outlook, coupled with news of scaled down base closings, Lansford and Harris said that current anti-closing strategies will be kept in place.
The Committee of Fifty recently hired a consultant firm, Piper Rudnick, to monitor and relay information about the process to New Mexico lawmakers, Harris said.
“Because everything (concerning BRAC) is fluid and in motion, (the scaling down of closings) won’t change our strategy to make sure we are not on the list,” Harris said.
The Committee of Fifty’s strategy reflects those of other states and cities who have hired lobbyists with Washington connections in an attempt to make their facilities — through new construction and other improvements — more resistant to closure.
The Clovis city council recently approved $250,000 to be used for lobbying purposes in the event that Cannon is on the first BRAC list, which is scheduled for May 16.
In a Friday meeting, about a dozen Portales military supporters decided to add to that money. Eastern New Mexico University regent Marshall Stinnett, who was present at the meeting, said local military supporters are looking at committing at least $50,000 to the efforts, and may be able to get an additional $15,000 to $20,000 from individuals and businesses.
“We’ve got things going with the milk and the (upcoming Southwest Cheese) plant and the railroad,” Stinnett said. “It would certainly be a tremendous impact. It would also affect real estate values dramatically.”
Rumsfeld clearly stated that he has not made final decisions about his set of recommendations to the commission. Pentagon officials say he might submit his recommendations Friday rather than wait until the deadline.
Stinnett was optimistic that Cannon wouldn’t be on the list, citing the base’s recent air space expansion and its economic impact on neighboring communities. He also hoped for the possibility that Cannon’s role in defending the country could increase after BRAC goes through.
“ If we’re not on the list and Cannon is expanded, we’ll use the money (to help aid expansion efforts),” Stinnett said. “If it’s not needed, then we won’t use it.”
Since the Base Closure and Realignment process started nearly two decades ago, the government has shut down 97 major bases and hundreds of smaller installations with a net savings of $28.9 billion.
The Associated Press and PNT Managing Editor Kevin Wilson contributed to this report.