Defense coming down to a 2-hour

By Ed Brock

Now is the time for the communities around Army Garrison Forts McPherson and Gillem to prepare to make their case to save the forts from the Base Realignment And Closure list, supporters say.

On June 30 the BRAC Commission will hold its regional hearing in Atlanta, Fred Bryant, deputy director of the Georgia Military Affairs Council, told Clayton County Chamber of Commerce members at an Early Bird Breakfast Thursday.

"Georgia will have a sum total of 120 minutes to make its case," Bryant said.

Bryant was a member of a three-person panel who came to the meeting to answer questions on what the community can do to help save the forts from the final BRAC list that the commission will recommend to President Bush on Sept. 8. Joining Bryant were Tom Salter, head of the Save Forts McPherson/Gillem Foundation, Inc., and retired Army Major Andy Alexander.

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.

Across the nation 33 major bases have been recommended for closing and 29 others for realignment, a move Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said should save the Defense Department $50 billion over the next 20 years and $5.5 billion a year after that.

Salter said at this point there is a 90 percent chance that the forts will remain on the list, but he added that he wanted to "see the water glass as 100 percent full." However, part of his foundation's current effort is to encourage communities that could be affected by the base closings to form local planning redevelopment authorities that would work with the Defense Department on redeveloping the forts.

"I don't want to roll over and play dead dog," Salter said. "At the same time I don't think it would be prudent of us to not prepare for the closing of the forts."

The key to saving the forts is not in complaining about the local impact, Salter said. The purpose of this BRAC list is to emphasize the most cost efficient way for the military to undertake joint operations, so the arguments must reflect how the forts can help the military achieve that goal.

He said one way of doing that is pointing out that the forts have the benefits of Atlanta's developed infrastructure that isn't available at some of the bases to which units from the forts could be moved. That infrastructure includes roads, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, communications and logistics facilities, a skilled work force and affordable housing.

Bryant said he is still waiting for the Defense Department to release the details of the data used in its analysis that led to the creation of the list. When the data becomes available, the council will have two men who worked on previous BRAC lists review the information for errors.

"There is boilerplate in (the executive summaries released with the lists) and there are mistakes in there which tells us there may be mistakes in their analysis too," Bryant said.

Bryant also said one option the council may present to the BRAC commission is the moving of some elements at Fort McPherson to Fort Gillem where there is more room for growth. The focus of efforts now is not about saving "grass and concrete" but about saving functions and jobs that are important to the military, he said.

"It's not about a building somewhere. It's about the people in those buildings and what they bring to the table," Bryant said.

On Wednesday BRAC Commissioner retired Adm. Harold Gehman visited the two Naval facilities that are on the list. Bryant said retired Army Gen. Tom Hill with the BRAC Commission is scheduled to visit Fort McPherson and possibly Fort Gillem on June 8 for a fact-finding mission in preparation for the June 30 hearing.

Alexander urged chamber members to get involved in the process of saving the forts.

"If you want to do something about it, do it now," Alexander 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.argument