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BRAC member visits area bases

By Ed Brock

ebrock@news-daily.com

See Page 4 for a guest column by U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, about the efforts to save Georgia's military installations from the Base Realignment and Closure List.

The military needs the Atlanta area as much as the city needs the military.

That was the gist of comments by U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, after spending Wednesday with one of the men who will decide the fate of Army Garrison Fort McPherson in Atlanta and it's sub-installation Fort Gillem in Forest Park. Both forts are on the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure List as recommended for closure and on Wednesday a member of the BRAC Commission visited Fort McPherson.

At a press conference after the visit by Commissioner and Retired Gen. James Hill, Scott said the Army would be giving up proximity to the world's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, if the bases are closed.

"Having a base that close to Hartsfield aids in our readiness," Scott said.

Fort McPherson and its sister base, Fort Gillem, are home to headquarters for the U.S. Army Forces Command, 3rd U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve Command. Scott said Atlanta would be vulnerable to terrorist attacks if the bases were closed.

"It's important that Atlanta not be left naked and exposed without a military base," Scott said.

Hill said little about his visit to Fort McPherson. Hill took a private tour of the base and said he went over the Pentagon's closure recommendation with local officials. His main goal, he said, was to hear from locals about what would happen if the base closed.

"You need to get a feel for how this affects lives," Hill told reporters after his tour.

Hill spent two years stationed at "Fort Mac" in the 1990s and said his questions did not dwell on base operations.

"I didn't learn anything that I didn't know going in," he said.

Scott said Hill "conveyed sensitivity to the fact that thousands of lives and jobs as well as the economic well being of metro Atlanta will be adversely affected if this base closes."

Fort McPherson was among four Georgia military installations tapped for closure by the Department of Defense. The Naval Air Station in Marietta and Navy Supply Corps School in Athens have already had their site visits; Fort Gillem will be toured Friday.

Congress will decide in November which bases will be spared. In previous base closing rounds, most bases on the list ended up shutting down.

Fort McPherson is one of the nation's oldest bases, in use since the 1880s. Combined with Fort Gillem, it is Atlanta's seventh largest employer with a civilian and military payroll of 4,141 people.

There had been discussion of the possibility of combining the units at Fort McPherson into Fort Gillem, but Fred Bryant with the Georgia Military Affairs Council said "we are keeping every conceivable option on the table."

"We will consider alternatives that might keep jobs and military functions in Georgia where we need them," Bryant said.

Another BRAC Commissioner James Bilbray is expected to visit Fort Gillem on Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.