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Disapproving the Recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COOPER. Mr. Chairman, I come here today to praise the men and women of the 118th Air Wing who fly out of Nashville, Tennessee. They have been mistreated by this BRAC process. I do not blame the BRAC Commission. I think the fault lies originally with the Pentagon recommendation because they simply did not take into account one of the best flying units in America. They are proven, they are ready, they have performed valiantly every time the Nation has called them to service. They have volunteered for extra duty. They fly C-130s. We have, and we soon will miss, those eight C-130 airplanes.

The bottom line for the Pentagon decision, did it really have anything to do with military judgment for value or cost savings? No. What did it have to do with? A political calculation on the part of the Pentagon that because Tennessee had a great air unit in Memphis with C-5s and a great air unit in Knoxville with KC-135s, that therefore, Nashville had to lose one of the best Air Guard units in the country.

Now, they did not close down our base entirely; they did not have the temerity to do that, but they took all our aircraft. They took the ``air'' out of the Air National Guard in Nashville, Tennessee.

Now, Members might say, well, I am just protecting a local interest. Look at the facts. First they came at us with wrong data because the Air Guard unit there does not own the runways; we only lease them from a fine commercial airport. We got no credit for that. So we addressed that problem.

Then they did not take into account the fact that we had some of the newest and best facilities in all of our military, the number one best hangar in America, brand new, barely opened, and it will probably never see an airplane. It won the top Air Force award for best hangar in the country, so why did American taxpayers pay $55 million for that hangar never to see it used?

Guess what, almost every other facility on that base is less than 2 years old, and we are taking away all of the aircraft. How does that make sense? It only makes sense if you look at the politics. Tennessee had three bases; they wanted to cut us down to two and distribute it more evenly around the country. So they can take our airplanes, are they going to train the new air crews at these other bases? Are they going to build them brand new and wonderful facilities and hangars? Will that save the American taxpayer money when we already had one of the top units in the country in Nashville performing perfectly?

If you ask Secretary Rumsfeld, he knows about the men and women from Nashville who have flown him wherever he needed to go, in the Middle East or other places in the world.

So I am in an ironic situation. I believe in the BRAC process. I do think Congress needs a restraint. We cannot just all protect our local bases, but the Pentagon's recommendation has to be based on sound military judgment, and at least in this one small case, it was not. Unfortunately, the BRAC commissioners did not have the temerity to override in this case, at least, the Pentagon recommendation.

If Members talk to top folks in the Pentagon, they will tell you that from the expected savings from the BRAC round, they are virtually gone, because the BRAC Commission did interfere in a lot of other bases, and some services, so 70 to 80 percent of the expected savings are not there. I think history will chalk this up as a failed BRAC round, not because of Nashville but because of larger issues.

So I hope and pray that when the next BRAC round comes around, we will do a better job starting with the Pentagon and through the BRAC Commission.

[Begin Insert]

Mr. Chairman, I rise today in favor of H.J. Res. 65, which would reject the recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee I initially supported the BRAC process. It is very important that the composition of our bases and infrastructure support the operational needs of the 21st century--a century that is emerging to be as dangerous and challenging as the 20th century. We must adapt to new threats and challenges. But our decisions concerning future base structure must be based on what best supports the national security of the United States. The BRAC decisions regarding the Air National Guard do not meet this test.

Consequently, I disagree with the Department of Defense's recommendations concerning the Air National Guard. Our citizen soldiers of the Air National Guard are a critical part of our defense structure. They have done heroic work since 9-11. We simply would not have been able to sustain the current pace of our operations without the Air National Guard.

The Air Force BRAC recommendations failed to fully consider the unique capabilities and civilian-military partnerships of many of our Air Guard facilities and the legitimate recruiting, training and retention concerns of the state adjutants. Moreover, the BRAC analysis did not address the potential impact of realignments on State homeland security missions. These ill considered recommendations generated almost unanimous opposition from State Adjutants. Despite the efforts of the commission, this entire process has done great harm to the vital relationships between the Air National Guard and the Air Force. This harms our national security.

Let me briefly discuss these flaws using the 118th Air Wing (AW) stationed in Nashville as an example. The decision regarding the realignment of the 118th AW, one of the premier C130H flying units in the United States, illustrates the nature of the flawed recommendations that grew out of a closed process.

First, the loss of aircraft from the Air National Guard and the movement of aircraft to fewer sites will have negative impact of the retention of our most experienced air crews and maintenance personnel. Unlike active duty airmen and pilots, Air National Guard personnel do not just pack up and relocate with their aircraft. It is highly unlikely that the majority of the 118th AW's highly experienced pilots and maintenance personnel will move with the C130H aircraft to new base locations.

Next, consider the airmen and airwomen left behind in enclaves. The realignment of the 118th and many similar units across the country essentially takes the ``air'' out of Air National Guard. Attracting and retaining highly motivated young men and women for a placeholder organization with no real mission will be difficult, if not impossible.

Third, rebuilding the deep operational experience and cohesion of units like the 118th AW, forged through multiple deployments and demanding combat missions that have continued through the rescue and recovery efforts associated with Hurricane Katrina will require many, many years. The direct and indirect personnel costs of realigning units like the 118th AW do not appear to have been considered in the BRAC process. It takes time and money to recruit, train and develop experienced pilots and co-pilots and highly skilled maintenance and support personnel. Indeed, duplicating the skill, experience and dedication of the 118th AW may be impossible.

Fourth, it appears that the Air Force failed to fully consider the military value of the Air National Guard facilities under consideration. For example, in Nashville, we have spent over $55 million over the last five years on military construction to include a new state of the art hangar/maintenance complex that won an Air Force design award. Yet it appears much of this new construction was not considered in the evaluation of the 118th AW's ``Military Value.'' Consequently, these excellent facilities will remain in limbo--neither closed nor fully operational. Where is the efficiency, cost savings or operational advantage in this arrangement?

Finally, the overall BRAC savings are minimal. According to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, the Department of Defense claimed that their recommendations would save $47.8 billion over twenty years. The Commission concluded that once one time up-front costs of $21 billion are subtracted and personnel costs are accurately calculated the total savings to the American taxpayer will only be $15 billion. This figure is likely high because costs for the retraining of pilots, air crews and mechanics are not factored into the up-front costs. This is extraordinary.

Consequently, I have concluded that the marginal fiscal benefits of these recommendations do not out-weigh the costs to our Air National Guard flying formations and our national security. I will vote ``yes'' on H.J. Res. 65.

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