Mayor Jim Thomas said he and Liberty County leaders plan to form an alliance with leaders of other communities surrounding Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield. The alliance will serve as a collective voice, expressing concerns to leaders in Washington about future military base closures, he said.
“We’re forming a coalition of elected and business leaders who’ll ensure the concerns of military communities are heard in Washington,” Thomas said. “The military wants a (Base Realignment and Closure) for 2015, but I think Congress will hold out for 2017.”
Thomas said the Stewart-Hunter coalition was similar but not directly connected to Gov. Nathan Deal’s Defense Initiative intended to attract military contractors to the state and help protect military communities during a BRAC. He said leaders across the state are forming similar alliances to protect their interests in the six military communities in Georgia.
These bases include Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, Fort Benning, Moody Air Force Base, Robins Air Force Base, Albany Marine Corps Base and Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.
“I think (Stewart-Hunter) is safe,” the mayor said. “We’re the largest Army base east of the Mississippi River, and we’re the priority power-projection platform for the Middle East.”
Thomas said the last BRAC (2005-2011) “cut the Army to the bone.” He believes many of the base closures have not saved the military any money in the short run. He said the cost for moving personnel and equipment could exceed savings.
According to Military.com, this is what happened in the last BRAC when Pope Air Force Base became Fort Bragg’s Pope Field. The base’s wing of A-10 ground attack jets had to be moved to Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta.
The website pointed out in a Dec. 23 article even a strategic base like Fort Bragg: The Home of the Airborne and Special Operations is not protected from BRAC. Bragg may have gained U.S. Army Forces Command and the U.S. Army Reserve Command from Georgia, but it lost 7th Special Forces Command to Florida. The base-closing commission looks for places that contribute little to the military mission or which have drawbacks like environmental restrictions, the article said.
The article explained the Pentagon proposes a list of possible bases to close then the BRAC commission reviews the lists and holds public hearings. Congress can vote yes or no without allowing individual lawmakers to use their clout to protect his or her local base.
Thomas explained that an alliance of community leaders will remind its representatives and senators what Stewart-Hunter has to offer the military and the country as both a training base and a strategic launch platform.
He said he sees the prospects of another BRAC as a bigger threat to the military than the current threat of sequestration.
Thomas firmly believes congressional leaders will ultimately work out a solution before Jan. 1 to prevent across-the-board cuts of $500 billion to the military. A retired soldier, the mayor admitted the solution might be just another temporary spending bill that allows Congress to “kick the can further down the road,” but does he not believe leaders will allow cuts to automatically take place that would hurt the military’s ability to defend the nation.