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The Vital Roles of S.C. Military Bases

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HEADLINE: The vital roles of S.C. military bases

BYLINE: By LINDSEY GRAHAM; Guest columnist

In local communities and across the state there are discussions about the coming round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. BRAC is an important effort to streamline our defense establishment and take money we're spending on unneeded facilities and maintenance and put it toward our urgent defense needs.

Recently, I made a statewide tour of all military installations and saw first-hand the important role South Carolina plays in defense of our nation. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the ongoing war on terrorism couldn't be fought without the important contributions being made by our installations.

I was tremendously impressed with the joint effort of our state and local communities in preparing for BRAC. We have unmatched cooperation between our business communities and political leadership, and it will pay dividends during BRAC.

South Carolina's contributions to the national defense are many:

* In Charleston, a critical naval research and logistics center helps maintain our nation's technological edge and is one of the world's largest military and commercial transportation hubs.

* Fort Jackson plays an integral part in the training of more than 50 percent of all Army personnel.

* Parris Island is literally the keeper of the soul of the Marine Corps and the only training site for enlisted women in the Corps.

* Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is home to many of the Navy's and Marine Corps' bravest and best-trained F-18 pilots and support crews. They've been deployed to Afghanistan and into Iraq during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

* The Air Force's brightest stars fly the F-16 at Shaw Air Force Base and McEntire Air National Guard Station. Shaw is the home of the 20th Fighter Wing, and McEntire is the home of the Swamp Foxes of the 169th Fighter Wing. McEntire is also home to a high-priority Army reserve Apache helicopter battalion. I've had the privilege of serving at both of these fine bases during my military career and know first-hand their value.

The training bases are indispensable to the services, and the flying units operate the most sophisticated and modern aircraft.

These South Carolina installations have one thing in common-all are involved in warfighting for the 21st century. In its own unique way, each is of critical importance in the war on terror and has a role to play in the future.

One of the most troubling ideas is closing McEntire and blending it into operations at Shaw. If we move flight operations from McEntire, we may lose hundreds of highly skilled and trained civil engineers, civil affairs officers, security police, communications and supply personnel currently in the Guard. These skilled Guardsmen are among the most valuable assets we have in the war on terror, and most units have been separately deployed to support operations in the Middle East.

McEntire has capabilities the Air Force needs and provides unique opportunities on the East Coast for blackout training for pilots and troops. This training gives our pilots an advantage when they're deployed, and it can't be replicated at other airfields. McEntire also serves as a secure location for special operations training and an emergency and training runway for all armed services in the Southeast. Operating the base is very inexpensive compared to the benefits gained from its operation.

The South Carolina Air National Guard also has a unique tie to the community, one bringing the community into the Guard and the Guard into the community.

Sumter is a wonderful Air Force community and provides many opportunities the Air Force won't find elsewhere. Shaw doesn't face encroachment issues and has outstanding operational ranges, such as the Poinsett Range, where pilots can train. Shaw is a strong base benefiting from excellent community support and stands out as a place the Air Force should stay and grow.

Two final points: Once a base is on the closure list, it is nearly impossible to get it off. Also, no politician or state delegation can save a base. If they could the naval base in Charleston or the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base would never have closed when the state held the chairmanships of both the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

We need to work together to put our best foot forward for all bases in the Palmetto State. We're in this together. All our bases can and should stand on their own.

We've got a great story to tell. Now it's our job to ensure we tell it in the best possible manner.

Sen. Graham is a member of the Armed Services Committee.

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