BILL CRAWFORD: Military cuts and BRAC to challenge leaders in key counties

By Bill Crawford

The late and former Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Boorda, sat next to his boss, Secretary of the Navy John Dalton. Under oath, they were testifying at the final hearing of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission in 1995. The Navy wanted to close Naval Air Station Meridian. Dalton testified in support.
Commission Chairman Alan Dixon asked, “Adm. Boorda, how do you feel about closing NAS Meridian?”
Federal law provides that uniform military leaders may disagree in congressional hearings with their civilian leaders. However, that rarely happens.
“I would be uncomfortable,” replied Boorda.
Boorda’s extraordinary testimony persuaded the commission to save the Meridian base. The remarkable story behind this event may never be told, but the terrific team effort and complex strategies that led to it are instructive.
In 2005 another BRAC commission voted to save Keesler AFB Medical Center and the Naval Human Resource Center at Stennis Space Center. The team efforts and strategies behind these results are also instructive.
With the Pentagon recommending two new BRAC rounds and Congress preparing massive cuts, lessons learned during the BRAC rounds of 1991, 1993, 1995, and 2005 should be dusted off, resourced, and re-invigorated.
Already “experts” are picking losers. A recent Kiplinger Letter calls Mississippi one of 14 “more vulnerable” states. The Huntington Ingalls Shipyard at Pascagoula and the Army Corps of Engineers facilities at Vicksburg were cited.
And, yes, the Pentagon is moving all out to identify cuts. Just last week the Air Force unveiled proposals for major cuts based on its plans to retire, cancel procurement of, and reassign numerous aircraft. Included were elimination of C27J short-haul cargo aircraft and reassignment of C130J transport aircraft. Cancelling the C27J impacts the 186th Air National Guard unit in Meridian. Reassignment of C130Js hits Keesler AFB. None of the revealed aircraft changes would impact the 172nd Air National Guard unit in Rankin County, the Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, or Columbus AFG.
However, the Air Force has not revealed its plans to reduce manpower or close/realign bases. The Navy and Army have yet to reveal anything. And Congress has yet to act. But leaders should anticipate more recommended impacts on Mississippi.
Other military units at risk are those at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, the Navy Seabee base in Gulfport, Camp Shelby in Forrest County, Camp McCain in Grenada County, Meridian Naval Air Station, and the Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg.
As Mississippi learned from past BRACS, pre-BRAC periods can be troubling, but also times of opportunity for aggressive states. As the Pentagon rebalances units and missions, it is susceptible to influence.
Strong leadership made a difference for Mississippi in past BRACs. It’s time for our newest leaders to suit up.
Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.