Base supporters say numbers are wrong

By Ed Brock

The Pentagon's numbers supporting the closing of Army Garrison Forts McPherson and Gillem are just plain wrong.

That's part of the message supporters of the forts delivered to members of the Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) Commission during a regional hearing in Atlanta on Thursday.

"We believe that the savings generated by the COBRA analysis (used to determine which bases would be closed) are overstated," said retired Army Gen. Phil Browning, executive director of the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee.

Browning was appointed to give the full argument to the committee members during one of the two hours allotted to Georgia during the hearing.

On May 13 the Department of Defense released its version of the list that included in Georgia the two Army forts as well as the Naval Air Station in Marietta and a Navy Supply Corps School in Athens. The hearing, held Tuesday morning in the Grand Ballroom at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center in downtown Atlanta, was an opportunity for Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee to try to remove individual bases from the list.

When the committee passes the list on to President Bush in September he will approve all or none of it, but cannot remove individual facilities.

Browning defended the forts on the basis of what he called the Army's four main criteria that were used for judging each facility. Criteria No. 1 was "mission capabilities versus impact on warfighting," No. 2 was "training land and facilities," No. 3 was "ability to accommodate mobilization and surge" and cost was supposed to be the last of the four criteria.

On the basis of cost, Browning said the numbers provided by the COBRA analysis were inaccurate, that the costs of moving some units was higher than what was given and some costs were not included. For example, the 2005 COBRA model lists $79.4 million as the cost of building new headquarters for three units stationed at Fort McPherson, U.S. Army Forces Command, 3rd U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve Command, but Browning said the actual cost would be $277 million.

Also, the COBRA model didn't take into account the increase in travel cost that would be incurred if the three headquarters are moved away from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"There is skepticism that the COBRA analysis for Ft. McPherson reaches a realistic conclusion," Browning said.

Browning applied the same basic argument against closing Fort Gillem. He also pointed out that breaking up some of the units would interfere with the "synergy" they had developed that allows them to fulfill their missions efficiently.

U.S. Rep. David Scott also spoke in defense of the forts, reminding the commissioners that America is a nation at war.

"Today, we live in a world of terrorists and Atlanta is home to the CDC and the world's busiest airport, each are known to be terrorist targets," Scott said. "Atlanta will be more vulnerable to a terrorist attack if we close Gillem because Gillem coordinates Atlanta's first responders in the event of a terror attack, which is why the (Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Red Cross and Georgia Emergency Management Agency) are at Gillem."

Tina Marie Coria with the Save Forts McPherson/Gillem Foundation Inc. distributed Army-green T-shirts with the slogan "Don't close us - grow us!" on the back to anyone who wanted one as they entered the hearing.

"We gave out probably 300 shirts this morning. We're very pleased," Coria said.

Mary Lou Austin, head of the USO post at Hartsfield-Jackson, attended the hearing in one of the shirts with a sticker supporting the Naval Air Station stuck on one shoulder.

"I'm here supporting all Georgia's bases," Austin said. "The fact is it is more cost efficient to have these installations in place."

But Emory Brock, Clayton County's director of economic development, was still not very optimistic about the chances of the forts being saved, though he said Browing did make "excellent arguments." The fact that the forts were on the initial BRAC list in 1993 but were later removed didn't necessarily provide a good omen for this year's BRAC, Brock said.

"The criteria this time is a lot different from the previous time," Brock said.

If Bush approves the list it will go to Congress for a vote and so a final list may not be available until November.