Mississippi prepared to avoid base closures
July 15, 2001
Congressional clout is often cited as the reason Mississippi's military bases have eluded closure during three rounds of base reductions, but there are several other reasons these bases came to Mississippi, and have thrived in our communities.
These factors remain on Mississippi's side today as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld calls for a narrow and targeted round of base closures.
Mississippians recognize that war is a tragedy of mankind, but an ever present reality of the imperfect world in which we live. Our state's base communities have welcomed our Army, Air Force, Naval, Marine, National Guard and Reserve personnel to our state, accepted them and in many instances Mississippi has become a permanent home for them after their military career.
Though it is hard for us in Mississippi to imagine, there are some communities in our country which frankly show a contempt for our military, and a dismissive attitude about their presence. To the contrary, Mississippians have displayed their support for our military time and time again, sometimes rallying the whole community behind our bases in times of national crisis, or in times when the future of our local installations seemed bleak.
Strategic mission: Most of Mississippi's bases serve to train the next generation of air force pilots, national guardsmen, naval aviators and technicians. Training is what makes our military the most formidable force in the world. As we rebuild our military we will certainly need these world-class training facilities.
I have asked Secretary Rumsfeld to keep training bases away from any base closure consideration. Right now Mississippi's training bases are operating at full capacity, while other domestic and foreign bases are not heavily used.
Room to grow
Many of America's military installations today find themselves encircled by new commercial and residential development. While that may be good for the community, it can be bad for the military installation and its mission.
In fact, in the case of one particular community far away from Mississippi, residents near the base have even brought a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy regarding jet noise, even though the local installation has been there for decades.
Luckily, Mississippi's facilities do not have this problem. For instance, NAS Meridian and Columbus AFB are located well away from the city proper. There is room for new operations, base expansions and other growth at these facilities, giving them another key advantage over other installations. If anything, we should be expanding these facilities.
Secretary Rumsfeld says our military still has many excess facilities that should be closed. However, Mississippi's busy installations certainly do not fit into the excess capacity description. In addition to asking Secretary Rumsfeld to limit any base closure process to one round, I have also requested that we target only facilities with excess capacity, if a round occurs.
Many of our excess facilities are in other parts of the globe, including Europe. If the Europeans are to take more responsibility for their own defense, the U.S. should close its foreign bases first, before putting our domestic communities through the very difficult closure process.
Opposed to BRAC
I also remain opposed to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). This supposedly independent commission was supposed to take politics out of the base closure process, but it has failed. Neither has BRAC shown any savings from previous closure rounds.
For years, Congress made base closure decisions based on recommendations from our military leaders. The future of our bases, our security and our base communities should certainly be up to those you elect, instead of an unelected commission.
Our active duty and reserve component bases have been rebuilt and are in great shape. No other bases in the country have been modernized more than Mississippi's bases.
Since 1997, I have helped secure about $500 million in military construction projects for Mississippi's active and reserve installations.
Mississippi's bases enjoy the support of our communities. They have important missions, including training, and they can readily be expanded. They are modernized facilities bustling with activity, and they enjoy the support of congressional representation opposed to BRAC.
We haven't lost a base yet, and our state is arguably more prepared to resist base closure today than at any time before.
U.S. Senator Trent Lott, R-Miss., welcomes questions or comments about this column. Write to him at 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510, Attention: Press Office.