DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
June 7, 1994

CLOSING MILITARY BASES MAKES SENSE

Closing unneeded military bases is the smartest thing that's happened to our armed forces since the adoption of the repeater rifle. Instead of wasting defense money maintaining empty barracks, unused training facilities and redundant infrastructure, the Pentagon can use the funds to sharpen combat-readiness by training our warriors and buying needed equipment.

In 1988, Dick Armey, a visionary Texas lawmaker, figured out a way to remove the politics from the painful base-closing process. Congressional greed had prevented any base closures for a decade until Armey devised an ingenious presidential commission system that would select Pentagon-recommended bases to be closed, strictly on the basis of military value. Congress and the president could accept or reject the commissions total list, but they could not amend it; the independent commission's bipartisan recommendations would have to be accepted in their entirety. This killed the lawmakers' oldest ploy, "I'll scratch your back and you scratch mine."

During the first two rounds of the base-closing drill, over 100 bases have gotten the ax. Dozens more have been partially closed. Almost 50 percent of U.S. overseas bases will be shut by 1995. The savings from these closures will exceed $4 billion a year, enough money annually to maintain four 15,000-person combat divisions at a razor's edge of preparedness.

The rationale for hanging on to unheeded post-Cold War bases -- besides maintaining pork factories for sleazebag politicians who buy votes with the jobs the bases provide for the good old boys and girls in their districts and states -- is that in case of World War III, we'd have the training facilities to prepare for another big war.

Modern weaponry -- cost, accuracy and lethality -- and post-Soviet Union world conditions rule out another massive buildup. Future wars will be come-as-you-are, ready-or- not. Our standing military will launch not unlike a police SWAT squad, and there will never be a need to train a million-man force as we did in the 1940s. This makes huge, mainly World War II infrastructure as obsolete as Custer's horse cavalry. The 1995 base-closing round has some shortsighted politicians running scared. They're worried that the commission is going to carve out more of their precious pork. They've gotten the word that the Pentagon wants to put the savings where it is desperately needed -- in combat readiness -- and is planning to submit the "mother of all base closings" list. The porkers are doing their damnedest to torpedo it, while the Pentagon is rightly against tampering with something that isn't broken, and says such a delay would waste $9 billion.

But there's life after a base closing. Pentagon statistics on over 100 bases converted to civilian use from 1961 to 1992 show strong economic growth. In many cases, 50 percent or more civilian jobs were added. A Pentagon study shows that 158,000 new jobs replaced the 90,000 lost civilian jobs at former bases. The Pentagon's Robert Rauner says these civilian jobs are "more meaningful for the local economy. ' Military families tend to spend their money on the base at the PX, at the commissary and at the base clubs.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, along with three other senators from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, tried to block the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard's scheduled closing by suing. The Supreme Court recently ruled against Specter and his pork barrellers. but now Specter and self- serving colleagues are threatening to have Congress fiddle with Armey's base-closing act.

Meanwhile, Reps. James Hansen of Utah and Floyd Spence of South Carolina have submitted a bill that would postpone the 1995 round to 1997. Closing redundant bases in their states, as in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, is a political hand grenade impacting on the '94 and '96 elections, and they want out of the danger zone.

Without the right stuff with which to train and fight, our warriors are placed at an unacceptable risk. The selfishness on the part of these politicians who think only of me, me, me, their districts and states, and don't give a damn about the larger America or its warriors, underscores why term limits are needed.

I say fire the bums in 1994 and 1996 who put our warriors in harm's way.