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BRAC vote expected next week

By Ed Brock

For all intents and purposes, the fate of Army Garrison Forts McPherson and Gillem might be decided next week.

From Aug. 24 to 27 the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission will begin its final deliberations on the list of military facilities around the country that are scheduled for closure. One by one the commission will vote on the facilities on the list and decide which ones remain slated for elimination and which ones will be saved, according to a statement from BRAC Commission spokesman Robert McCreary.

Though the commission's version of the list will still have to be approved or denied by President Bush in September and then Congress, next week's vote will let base supporters like Fred Bryant, deputy director of the Georgia Military Affairs Council, know if all their work has paid off.

"This is going to be what turns into the report that will go to the president in September," Bryant said.

On May 13 the U.S. Department of Defense announced its version of the BRAC list that recommended Fort McPherson in Atlanta and Fort Gillem in Forest Park for closing. The Naval Air Station-Atlanta in Marietta and the Naval Supply Corps School in Athens were also on the list.

The BRAC Commission will hold its final deliberations in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City hotel in Arlington, Va.. They will begin the hearings at 8 a.m. and continue into the evening, first considering the installations added to the list by the commission on July 19 and then moving on to Army, Navy, Air Force and joint cross-service installations in that order.

"The commission has had a myriad of data to review and analyze and during this period will be making its decisions in the best interest of our country and in accordance with the BRAC law," said Commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi in a statement.

The process has not been easy, Principi said. That process involved on-site visits by commission members and regional public hearings, including one held in Atlanta in June at which Bryant's boss, GMAC Director and retired Army Brig. Gen. Phil Browning, defended the forts.

Browning will also attend the final deliberations, Bryant said.

"He will represent Georgia from the governor's staff perspective," Bryant said.

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia, has been an active supporter of the bases but said he would not be able to attend the deliberations.

"We're making every effort for our senior staff person will be there to observe and take notes," Scott said.

Scott said he remains hopeful that at least Fort Gillem will escape closure.

"I think we made a very solid case for Gillem," Scott said.

The congressman reiterated arguments that Browning also made at the hearing that the cost savings presented by the Department of Defense in making its decision were inaccurate. He said the cost of the environmental clean up at Gillem, where hazardous material was stored during World War II, would certainly be high.

Scott also cited the need for a military presence in an important city like Atlanta. Much of the planning for the list started before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"It's a different world now," Scott said. "This needs to be reevaluated based on today's criteria."

Bryant said the final deliberations will be open to the public.

"They'll be on C-Span," Bryant said.

Fort McPherson is home to three major headquarters, the U.S. Army Forces Command, 3rd U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve Command. Fort Gillem is a satellite of McPherson and it houses the headquarters for the U.S. Army Recruiting Brigade and 1st U.S. Army.

Both forts recently had remodeling work done on their gates and on Fort Gillem a number of new buildings have been opened in the past three years, such as a $5.6 million headquarters for the 52nd Ordnance Disposal Group, and more were planned like the new home for the Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory set to open this summer.

McPherson is one of the nation's oldest bases. First established in 1886, it became a permanent Army installation in 1889. Known for its on-base golf course, McPherson has 40 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gillem is Clayton County's third largest employer. Together McPherson and Gillem have military personnel numbering 2,771 and a civilian work force of 2,451 - for a total annual payroll of $512 million.