• 52°

Base closure: Smoke or blowing smoke?

By Staff
March 25, 2001
Was there smoke? Or, was someone just blowing smoke?
Barry Rhoads, owner of the Rhoads Group, briefed legislators and others Thursday about the potential threat of two more base realignment and closure committees (BRAC) being formed in the years 2003 and 2005.
Rhoads said everything was fine for now with the status of most of our bases. But, he added, the military is looking five and 10 years down the line. You never can tell how things might change.
He talked about how Mississippi could never let down our guard.
I don't think our Navy Meridian Team ever has, even though there hasn't been a round of base realignment and closures since 1995.
I was around during part of the 1991 BRAC hearings, and all of the 1993 and 1995 rounds. While it was a time to worry about losing a major asset to the community, it was also a time to feel very proud of the image that was portrayed by this group of people.
In 1993 at one of the hearings, a group from another state made its presentation to the BRAC commissioners. Basically, it was a yelling session. Navy Meridian Team came on, and it was a pleasant, organized, well thought out factual exchange of information in which our folks showed the commissioners the flaws in their thinking on the value of NAS Meridian.
New leadership
Rhoads, who served on the government's side of the first BRAC hearings, and was our consultant for the rounds in 1993 and 1995, definitely left those gathered in Jackson last week with a picture of a possible problem, which was the purpose of the meeting.
One subject Rhoads brought up was the new leadership in the military under President Bush. Today he seems like a prophet when he warned that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was going to make some sweeping changes in the military.
Nobody really knows what changes will be made, only that they are going to be "dramatic," according to wire reports. Apparently, the U.S. is going to refocus its plans away from the possibility of a European threat, and will instead put the emphasis on China and Asia. No decisions have been made on defense programs at this time.
(This makes you wonder why they would start talking about base closures until they do know what the plan is going to be.)
Our best interests
A couple of numbers stick out on this issue. According to the Mississippi Development Authority, the seven military installations in Mississippi employ 31,000 people in military and civilian jobs with a payroll of more than $1 billion. At last count, NAS Meridian employed 3,500, making it easily Lauderdale County's largest employer.
We have a lot of eggs in one basket. That's how it is. But while they are there, we have to keep them warm, and that's what Rhoads is doing for us.
If there is any question that Mississippi needs The Rhoads Group's service, news of the pending overhaul of the military answers with a resounding, "yes."
Rhoads explained his role: "Look, I live this stuff. I'm up there every day, listening and looking in to everything that comes up."
Members of Navy Meridian Team will tell you from experience that strange things can get written into law, and good intentions don't count once the president signs it. Rhoads is responsible for being aware of every line that goes into the defensive appropriation bills and budget. His group is expected to know what could negatively affect a Mississippi base, and to sound the alarm as early as possible.
And as Rhoads said, "We haven't lost a base yet, and we aren't planning to use one."
A true problem?
On the drive back home, I couldn't decide whether those gathered had been forewarned of a potential threat. Or, had we just witnessed a dog and pony show, put on by a man who was trying to keep the state's business with his company at the tune of $200,000 per year.
Frankly, it almost seemed that the threat of a problem was being created to justify all the concern that is being raised.
My conclusion, after reading about the Rumsfeld revelations: We are in a changing world as far as defense spending goes. We need somebody who knows what he is doing looking out for us. Like Rhoads said, he hasn't lost a Mississippi base yet.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.

x