Scott Air Force Base was on the list of recommended base closings but was saved by the new chief of staff who had ties to Scott, two high-ranking Air Force sources said.
Former Air Force chief of staff Gen. Merrill A. McPeak put Scott on the list before he retired in October, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified.
But the base later was removed by Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, who was the top general at Scott until he succeeded McPeak as chief of staff last fall, the sources said.
A civilian source close to the base closing procedure, who also asked not to be named, confirmed that Scott once was on the list.
Defense Secretary William Perry on Tuesday announced which military bases would be recommended for closing to the independent Base Closure and Realignment Commission. Scott was not on the list.
The Army recommended downsizing the Charles Melvin Price Support Center in Granite City and closing the Aviation and Troop Command in St. Louis.
The commission, headed by former U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon of Belleville, still can add or remove bases from the list.
What's not clear is whether Scott was rescued because of its military value or because the Air Force decided it could not afford to close as many bases as first planned.
"Scott was on the original list at least in part because McPeak was a fighter pilot who disliked airlifters — and may have been saved because Fogleman was another fighter jock who became a born-again airlifter," one of the Air Force sources said.
The term airlifter refers to the transportation and cargo hauling side of the Air Force.
McPeak became Air Force chief of staff in October 1990. During his four years as chief, McPeak completely transformed the Air Force
A career fighter pilot who still often flew himself, McPeak eliminated five major commands, including the mighty Strategic Air Command, whose bomber pilots had long ruled the Air Force.
The bombers joined the fighters in the Air Combat Command, and SAC's tankers joined the transport planes in the new Air Mobility Command, headquartered at Scott, which replaced the old Military Airlift Command.
Throughout the Air Force, units were renamed or eliminated, chains of command were altered and decision-making authority was pushed down to lower levels. McPeak even designed a new uniform.
To his fans, McPeak was a visionary building a leaner, better Air Force for the post-Cold War ear. To his detractors, he was referred to as the "don of the fighter mafia" that had taken over the Air Force.
After McPeak retired, Fogleman walked into the job to find the base
realignment and closure process almost complete. The process this year
actually began in the Pentagon a year ago, when working groups for each
of the services started to develop models to determine a base's military
importance and the costs and savings associated with closing it.
Task forces within the services then requested specific data from each base, plugged the data into the models and began crunching the numbers.
"It's a very fluid process," said Major Mary Feltault, a spokesman for Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall. "They met regularly from August on."
In three previous base closure rounds, bases like Scott that were home to major headquarters were exempt from consideration. But this time, in what Pentagon officials predicted would be the largest round of closures to date, everything was vulnerable.
"The BRAC law required that every base with more than 300 civilians get looked at, and every base got a serious look," Feltault said.
By early October, a list of proposed Air Force base closures was presented to McPeak, who was preparing to retire. The Air Force sources said they are not certain whether Scott was on the list that went to McPeak, but it was on it when he handed it back.
When Fogleman succeeded McPeak later that month, one of his first orders was to deliver all the closure recommendations to him, the sources said. Because he would have to live with them, he was not ready to recommend them until he had personally examined them.
About the same time, under pressure from the services, Defense Secretary Perry began backing away from predicting massive base closures. Closing bases saves money in the long run but costs a lot of money up-front. With increasingly tight defense dollars and continuing questions about the ultimate size of the military, the services wanted to close fewer bases this time around.
Perry agreed but promised there will be future rounds of base closings in three or four years.
The services revised their recommendations to include fewer bases. Somewhere in that process, Fogleman removed Scott from the list sent to Air Force Secretary Widnall, the sources said.
Originally Published, March 5, 1995, Belleville News Democrat, Belleville,
(c) 1995, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill
GWI Anthrax Gen. Borisov Other Military Stories