Critics: BRAC closings could hurt recruiting

After weighing the initial impact of the Defense Department’s base realignment and closure (BRAC) recommendations over the weekend, several members of the independent BRAC Commission yesterday urged the Pentagon to release quickly the certified data and justification sheets that influenced the decisions.

That information is key in filling some major gaps in the commission’s ability to assess the Defense Department’s recommendations, several members indicated during a presentation of the Pentagon’s BRAC recommendations and methodology.

According to Michael Wynne, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, the certified data should be released to the commission by the end of this week. Also present at the hearing were Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Gen. Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Phillip Grone, the deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.

Several members of the commission have been vocal about the potentially adverse effect the Pentagon’s BRAC decision will have on National Guard and Reserve recruitment and retention. The Defense Department decided to close hundreds of National Guard and Reserve facilities to consolidate facilities into 125 “armed forces reserve centers,” slated for both Guard and Reserve members.

“When I look at the Guard and Reserve units … you are going to have a serious enlistment problem,” said James Bilbray, one of the commissioners. The consolidation would make it even harder for the National Guard and Reserve to retain their forces if members have to travel more than 50 miles to report to their bases. The Guard and Reserve already are under high operational stress.

For example, the Hulman Regional Airport Air Guard Station in Indiana, slated for realignment, will lose all of its air assets, said retired Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Steven Koper, who is with the National Guard Association in Washington.

Some of the airplanes will go to Fort Wayne, Ind., some 210 miles away, he said. One justification for the move was the proximity to Fort Wayne, but a 210-mile commute will weigh heavily in members of the Guard’s decisions to reenlist, Koper said. Leaving the Hulman base only with support units but no aircraft to support is also going to play a role into members’ considerations, he said.

The Defense Department “skewed the findings against the Air National Guard,” Koper added.

The consolidation of the Guard and Reserve units was meant to bring the units to the right size, Myers explained. Right now, in the Air National Guard, for example, there are only “small pockets,” with small force numbers, which makes it “unwieldy” when trying to access these disparate units for missions, he said during the commission’s hearing yesterday. The Defense Department is trying to bring those units to the right size so as not to have to go to five or six units to find enough aircraft to satisfy a mission.

Commissioner Phillip Coyle, meanwhile, expressed concern that the Pentagon’s BRAC recommendations only account for 15,000 service members out of the approximately 70,000 that are supposed to return to the United States from overseas bases. The commission has to deal with “55,000 unaccounted for” and an additional troop increase in the Army, Coyle said.

It is important to get that data and justification sheets, said commissioner Harold Gehman, a retired Navy admiral. The commission was asking its questions without a “deck of cards,” he said at the hearing. “We are scratching our heads over some issues,” he added.

The chairman of the commission, Anthony Principi, questioned whether the Defense Department synchronized its decisions with the ongoing quadrennial defense review, the overseas basing commission’s report and several studies, including an air mobility study.

“Is BRAC the cart before the horse?” he asked. Rumsfeld, however, assured Principi that the decisions were informed by previous BRAC rounds, previous quadrennial review and information from the ongoing quadrennial review. If the stops to take all studies into consideration, “nothing will ever happen,” Rumsfeld said.