No base closure list yet

By Ed Brock

From the Department of Defense to the spokespeople for the Atlanta area's two Army forts, the word is there is no reason to fear that the forts will be closed.

At least not until spring of 2005 when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (or whoever is in the position at the time) must present a Base Realignment and Closure list.

"If there was a list (at this time) we'd have received it through official channels," said Bob Bolia, spokesman for Fort McPherson in East Point and Fort Gillem in Forest Park.

But rumors are flying already about the possibility that the two forts will be included on the BRAC list. There are even bogus lists floating around, said John Nino, executive secretary for the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee.

"We've been operating on the assumption that about 25 percent of the bases in the DOD are in some danger of being closed or realigned," Nino said.

The committee's job is to help improve the strategic value of the state's 13 military bases so they can be more competitive in the BRAC process.

The BRAC issue has made headlines around the country and the Los Angeles Times has written several articles and editorials on the subject. On Oct. 14 the Times broke a story citing Pentagon insiders as saying that Rumsfeld planned to close at least 100 of the nation's 425 bases.

Those plans are far from official and Rumsfeld has criticized the Times for its coverage because currently there is no official list, DOD spokesman Glenn Flood said.

"It's not official until we approve it," Flood said.

These rumors have been floating around Capitol Hill as well, said U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta.

"Keep in mind this is a plan of (Rumsfeld)," Scott said. "There is nothing here yet."

By May 16, 2005, the list will be presented to the nine-member Congressional BRAC Committee that can remove a base from the list with a simple majority vote. By Sept. 8, 2005, the committee must send the list to the White House for presidential approval and it will become law, unless Congress moves to block it within 45 days.

"The final decision-maker on whether this becomes law is the Congress," Scott said.

But in the end the bases decide their own fates.

"The more activities a base performs, the less likely a base is to be closed," Scott said. "I feel that Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem are secure ? but still we must stay vigilant and stay on top of it and my office is staying on top of it."

A rough draft of the selection criteria will be available to the public in December. It will be published in the Federal Register that is produced by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Register can be viewed at www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html. After a 60-day comment period the Defense Department should release the final list of criteria by February, Nino said.

Nino and Scott were optimistic about both forts' chances of survival. Fort McPherson is home to the Army's Forces Command, U.S. Army Reserves Command and the 3rd Army, a component of Central Command for forces in Southwest Asia, including the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Fort Gillem houses the 1st Army that oversees training and readiness for all Army National Guard troops east of the Mississippi, the Army's Criminal Investigations Laboratory, the Second Recruiting Brigade, FEMA's Territory Logistics Center and the Army Air Force Exchange Service Distribution Center.

Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem are staffed by 600 assigned soldiers and 9,800 attached personnel.

But the defense of the forts should not be based on complaining about the impact that closing them would have on the local economy but on how they meet the announced criteria, said Tom Salter, head of the newly formed Save Forts McPherson/Gillem Foundation Inc.

"Then it will be up to folks to show how we meet and exceed those standards," Salter said.

The foundation will have an organizational meeting on Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. in the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's planned new facilities on Mt. Zion Road. Call Kim Barber at the Chamber at (404) 608-2770 for more information.

Salter said Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed the foundation members and, while they operate in support of the forts, they are not connected to the forts. That gives them an advantage in defending the bases, he said.

In the end the commanders and officers at the fort could be violating their own oaths to speak against a decision or possible decision of their superiors and so they may remain passive, said Salter, who was stationed at Fort Gillem prior to his retirement.

"It's up to the community to defend them and not for purely parochial reasons," Salter said.

Salter said he has absolutely no information that would lead him to believe the forts are in imminent danger.

"The sky isn't falling," Salter said.