Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

EDITORIAL>> Bring more of them here

Three separate delegations from Arkansas communities made their way to San Antonio on Monday to address the Base Realignment and Closure Commission that is reviewing a Pentagon decision to close or reduce several military bases, although some lucky sections of the country, including central Arkansas, could see a dramatic increase in their missions.

Members of our congressional delegation and local officials spoke up in behalf of keeping the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith and saving the Red River Depot in Texarkana, which the Defense Department believes are dispensable. The commission could overrule the Pen-tagon’s recommendation, but it’s a long shot, although you can’t blame Fort Smith and Texarkana for trying.

The commission could also overrule the Pentagon’s recommendation to assign some 3,900 additional personnel and 66 more C-130s to Little Rock Air Force Base, but our crystal ball tells us that we’ll get those folks and planes and Fort Smith and Texarkana will not.

Jacksonville is doing a lot better than Fort Smith and Texarkana for several reasons: LRAFB has a showcase military facility worth billions of dollars and is the center of the C-130 universe. Fort Smith and Texarkana are marginal bases at best.

Although Arkansans sang the praises of all three facilities, everyone knows only one will survive this latest round of base closings. The military has invested hundreds of millions of dollars at Little Rock Air Force Base, and there’s no reason to stop investing more as the Pentagon looks for savings through consolidation.

“Little Rock is the center of C-130 training now and no one has suggested this mission could be more easily or efficiently conducted anywhere else,” Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., told the commissioners. (We would have changed the wording from Little Rock to Jacksonville — after all, the base is in the city limits of Jacksonville, which is finally on the rebound after years of struggle.)

The economic impact of losing a military base is almost incalculable, and so is the expansion at Little Rock Air Force Base, although we’d guess in the long run the impact here will run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. That is why no community likes to lose a base: Everyone talks about their military value, but when politicians and business leaders fight to keep them open, they’re not really talking about patriotism but about jobs.

Military people often tell us that the level of community support here is unsurpassed anywhere in the nation. A half century ago, this community came together and donated 6,000 acres to the Defense Department so it could build an air base here.

Not long ago, Jacksonville voters approved a tax increase to build a joint civilian-military education center in front of the base.

As Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim told the base commission on Monday, “We’re not only excited” about future growth at LRAFB, “but we’re prepared to do whatever is necessary to provide for members of the military and their families.”

No wonder officials from around the state had nothing but praise for the Pentagon’s decision to send more people and planes our way. Let’s hope the BRAC commission approve the decision, which will then make its way up to President Bush and Congress for final approval.

A decade from now, when more bases will close, the Pentagon ought to keep adding on at our base, which has plenty of room for growth.

It’s been a good partnership.