By: Jeff Mullin
January 26, 2012
ENID — Congress will be asked to approve a new Base Realignment and Closure round under the proposed 2013 defense budget outlined Thursday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The call for another BRAC round came during a press conference announcing details of the 2013 defense budget request and a sweeping plan to trim $487 billion from defense spending in the next decade.
The proposal involves cutting troops, retiring older planes and ships and delaying purchases of the next generation F-35 fighter.
Under the proposal, the Army would be cut from 562,999 to 490,000 troops in the next five years, while the Marines will be trimmed by 20,000, to 182,000.
The Air Force isn’t slated to lose any more troops under the proposal, but would see the elimination of six tactical air squadrons and one training squadron.
“We have to look at the infrastructure supporting the remaining force,” Panetta said, “and the best way to do that is through the BRAC process.”
President Obama is expected to submit a request for a new BRAC round to Congress Feb. 13, as part of the fiscal year 2013 budget. Both houses of Congress would have to approve the proposal before the BRAC process once again is set in motion.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he would not support the proposed new BRAC round.
“I opposed the 2005 BRAC and will not support a BRAC if called for under Obama’s latest round of budget cuts,” Inhofe said in a statement. “However, should we lose that fight, I am ready to stand with our communities to highlight Oklahoma’s strengths that have benefited all our military installations in past BRAC rounds.”
Oklahoma never has had a military facility closed as the result of a BRAC round.
Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison, said he expects Congress won’t act on a new BRAC round until late in the year. He also said he doesn’t expect any changes in the efforts of city, state and congressional leaders to protect and enhance Oklahoma’s military facilities, including Vance Air Force Base.
“As far as what we will do or change, we are so focused on what we do to enhance our facilities now,” Cooper said. “We will just continue to do what we do, continue to protect and enhance our No. 1 military value, which is air space, and our infrastructure. That isn’t going to change.”
The last BRAC round came in 2005. Vance was not included on the list of bases considered for closure that year. Likewise, Vance was not on the 1988, 1991 or 1993 lists. In 1995, Vance was a late addition to the list. The Department of Defense recommended closing Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, so the BRAC commission placed all undergraduate pilot training bases, including, Vance, on the list for review.
More than 12,000 people gathered in the field across from Vance’s main gates on the day the BRAC commission visited the base. Dozens more rode buses to the regional BRAC hearing in Fort Worth, Texas, three days later. In the end, Reese remained on the closure list, while Vance and the rest of the undergraduate pilot training bases were removed.
“We kind of understand what our responsibilities are as a community, state and congressional delegation,” Cooper said, “to protect our air space and to provide the necessary assistance to allow them (the Air Force) to improve the efficiency of what they do.”
At this stage, Cooper said, he feels good about the efforts to protect Vance.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, but we feel as good as you can,” he said. “We have been down this road before. As far as military value and community impact, we rack and stack real well. We protect our base about as well as anybody does.”
Cooper said one asset all of the state’s military facilities have if the BRAC proposal goes forward is its congressional delegation, led by Inhofe.
“Inhofe’s leadership in all this is a key,” Cooper said. “We are lucky to have that.”
Like Inhofe, 3rd Congressional District Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., expressed his opposition to the proposed defense cuts.
“With our men and women oversees in Afghanistan and facing a number of growing threats from abroad that will require continued investments in our national security,” Lucas said, “I do not believe this is the time to make unprecedented spending cuts to our nation’s defense budget. Reducing the salaries of our men and women in uniform, increasing their health care fees, and dismantling our force structure will only further jeopardize our national security.”
Inhofe accused President Obama of forcing the military to “Pay for Washington’s fiscal problems.”