It’s been seven years since a Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, or BRAC, undertook a review of U.S. military installations around the globe.
Five previous reviews dating to 1988 led to the closure or pending closure of 350 outposts. For the most part, Washington has been spared, which is a tribute to the service of the 100,000 military and civilian personnel who work at those installations and the vigilance of officers and politicians from the governor on down who have made solid cases for preserving each base.
They have also made sure the Pentagon continued to invest in upgrades that help assure the bases can fulfill their missions.
Gov. Chris Gregoire has organized a Washington Military Alliance to prepare the state for another BRAC in either 2013 or 2015, as proposed in a Department of Defense budget submitted earlier this year. Cuts of $478 billion over the next 10 years are already anticipated; the budget deal that averted a government shutdown last fall could double that.
Not all those cuts will happen, but with the withdrawal of almost all U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by 2015, a smaller force will require fewer bases. As Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month, “The reality is that the department is going to need to take a hard look at what we do in terms of support infrastructure as we seek to reduce overhead costs.”
The BRAC process has been effective in all the prior reviews. Under BRAC, a panel of civilian and military officials surveys all the bases and their missions and forwards a list of proposed closures to Congress for an up-or-down vote – no changes. None have been rejected.
Spokane officials have been especially sensitive about Fairchild, the area’s largest employer and a source of community pride since World War II. Their antennas are up already because of the potential threat from a new casino and the Air Force’s consideration of what criteria it will use to select bases for the new KC-46A tankers, planes that could be the key to Fairchild’s future.
A Spokane contingent that included Mayor David Condon and County Commissioner Todd Mielke was the largest at the alliance’s Aug. 24 meeting, its first. And the city, county and Greater Spokane Incorporated will split a $30,000 commitment to help fund a private study – total cost around $300,000 – that will evaluate all Washington bases, help build a case for each and identify shortcomings before BRAC does.
A contract for the study should be in place by year-end, with completion anticipated by next December.
This will be a good investment for Spokane and Washington. With the military shifting more of its focus to the Pacific region, the state has many natural advantages. But with a shrinking defense budget, nothing can be taken for granted. Every asset in the state, from Fairchild to Naval Base Kitsap, will need a showcase.
Better to be ready than sorry.