Defense gets state delegation’s attention

By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal

Gov. Phil Bryant’s reactivation earlier this month of the Mississippi Military Communities Council indicates the value placed by political and civic leaders on military installations in the state with Defense Department cuts looming.
But the governor’s urgency was tempered somewhat Wednesday when Sen. Clair McCaskill, D-Mo., blocked any domestic base closures or realignment in the Senate Armed Services Committee, which she chairs.
The Department of Defense plans to cut spending by $487 billion over the next decade, and talk of a base closure/realignment initiative had spun through the Capitol. But McCaskill’s action blocks it for this year.
Sen. Roger Wicker had started asking questions about Mississippi facilities, as had 1st District U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee and Sen. Thad Cochran, all Republicans.
Four previous rounds of Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission actions have reshaped or eliminated some Mississippi facilities.
The Department of Defense Base Structure Report for 2011 lists Mississippi having 21,783 military personnel, 3,900 civilian personnel, and the National Guard adds 9,638 more military personnel, with 677 civilian positions. A substantial number of the positions are in Northeast Mississippi, especially in Tupelo, and at Columbus Air Force Base.
Those jobs and the large economic impact, Bryant said, adds more than $2.5 billion to the state’s economy.
Wicker questioned Air Force officials this week in a meeting of the Armed Services Committee about potential adjustments, which means spending for jobs and facilities.
In a statement released to the Daily Journal, he said, “National defense is a federal responsibility, and supporting our military installations has created thousands of jobs in Mississippi.
“Federal funds are tight as we look to reduce the deficit, but these cuts must not be shortsighted or hamper our national security. … We need to continue reminding the Pentagon of good things going on in Mississippi, and I am confident we will have cooperation at the local, state and federal level to make a strong case.”
Nunnelee expressed optimism that no closings or realignments would be undertaken in 2012.
“I am confident that there will not be another round of BRAC this year, as the House and Senate Armed Services Committee leadership has expressed opposition to including it in the Defense authorization bill.”
Wicker asked specifically in the hearing about pilot training, which is the mission of Columbus Air Force Base, and was at least partially assured that reductions aren’t anticipated.
Mississippi has scores of sites listed in the Defense report, ranging from operations employing thousands to smaller National Guard units with a few dozen soldiers and proportionate numbers of civilian employees.
joe.rutherford@journalinc.com