Building casino, hotel at the proposed site will make the base vulnerable to closure
I would like to offer my personal insights on the proposed STEP – the Spokane Tribe’s initiative to build a full casino and a 14-story, 300-room hotel near Fairchild Air Force Base. There has been a lot of discussion recently about encroachment on the base’s flying activities and a potential Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission in 2013 or 2015.
I know something about Air Force bases, having served 30 years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, retiring in 2007 as a full colonel. I also know something about BRAC, as I wrote my doctoral dissertation on military base closures in 2006 at Auburn University. And I had a book published on the same subject in 2009.
When a BRAC is authorized by Congress, and begins its assessment of military bases, it evaluates numerous categories for each base. The categories for Air Force bases include local support for the base and encroachment by the local population (i.e., neighborhoods) and businesses (such as casinos and hotels) around the base itself. It becomes a beauty pageant of sorts. The “best looking” bases stay open (meaning with the best scores on the checklist), while the not-so-good looking bases are considered for closure. As such, the entire issue regarding STEP, Fairchild and BRAC is all relative.
One thing that would significantly enhance Fairchild’s status in any BRAC evaluation is being selected by the Air Force leadership to host the new aerial refueling tanker, the KC-46A (selected to replace the KC-135 tankers, some of which are currently stationed at Fairchild). However, once Air Force leadership sees the STEP project approved and being built, it would need to re-evaluate basing the new tanker here.
When the BRAC evaluates Fairchild (possibly a couple of years from now), will the casino and hotel complex being built adjacent to the base make the base more attractive to the Air Force and the Department of Defense, or not? I believe that the answer is that it will not.
Air Force leadership and the BRAC members are likely to find other Air Force bases with less aggressive encroachment, and decide to consider Fairchild not for the new KC-46A, but for closure.
This is the only true issue regarding the STEP project. The rest is what is referred to in academia as “red herring” (bait to lead you off topic). A major casino and 14-story hotel near Fairchild will make other Air Force bases look more appealing, and that could be the end of Fairchild. That would be a gamble I would not be willing to take.
As such, I am contacting Scott Akins, regional director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to express my aforementioned concerns.
Stephen R. Schwalbe, colonel (ret.) U.S. Air Force, is the program director for political science at American Public University.