Scott again at risk of closure
April 6, 1998
By Rod Hafemeister
Belleville News-Democrat

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE - The Pentagon's request for two more rounds of military base closings could mean bad news for Scott Air Force Base, which barely escaped closing in 1995, local supporters warn.

Local leaders say the time to act is now if the metro-east wants to protect its largest single employer, which provides jobs for more than 12,000 military and civilian workers and pumps about $1.1 billion a year into the local economy.

"We're assuming that base closures are a reality," said Jim Pennekamp, executive director of Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois.

"There is no base, to my knowledge, that is safe. The key is to be engaged in the process, and that's what we've been working on since 1995"

Three years ago, the Leadership Council and area political leaders successfully defended both Scott and the Army Charles Melvin Price Support Center in Granite City from the budget knife.

Scott was on the Air Force's initial list of suggested closings but was removed before the list was submitted to the commission that made the final decision.

The Price Center was actually on the Army's list, considered a subsidiary of the Army's Aviation and Troop Command in St. Louis, also recommended for closing.

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission - called BRAC because the first commission was realignment and closure -  approved closing the St. Louis command. But local supporters showed that the Army miscalculated the benefits from and costs of closing the Price Center
and convinced the commission to spare it.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, said the 1995 experience showed the value of acting early. "I believe that the reason we were successful in convincing the Pentagon not to put Scott on the closing list was because we started very early putting together our facts to make our case both to the Pentagon and to the BRAC," he said."We have already started again."

Secretary of Defense William Cohen on Thursday requested Congress to authorize two more rounds of base closings, recommending one in 2001 and another in 2005.

Cohen included a report showing that by 2003, the Pentagon will have saved about $25 billion from four rounds of closings that ended in 1995, with annual savings of about $5.6 billion after that.

Cohen said the Pentagon can save another $20 billion by 2015 and an additional $3 billion a year thereafter by cutting about 20 percent of the military's remaining bases. That would mean about 50 bases would be closed, about as many as in the 1993 and 1995 BRAC rounds combined.

Air Force calculations for those two rounds ranked Scott as one of the least valuable bases for large aircraft and one of the best to close. Scott's shortcomings included:

Some of those shortcomings are about to change: Scott is having its runway extended and improved as part of the construction of MidAmerica Airport and will have access to MidAmerica's parallel runway as well. The joint airport also is gaining an Illinois Air Guard KC-135 air refueling wing, which is moving from O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Workers broke ground on the project Saturday.

But Scott's biggest assets which received little consideration, in the earlier calculations  are the headquarters for U.S. Transportation Command and its Air Force component, Air Mobility Command.

Transcom controls virtually all movement of military personnel, equipment and supplies, with Air Mobility Command handling airlift and aerial refueling. Nothing moves without those two headquarters, and local supporters say that needs to be the basis of any future calculations of Scott's value.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who is also an Army Reservist, said he's not convinced that base closings are the best way to pay for new weapons and personnel benefits. "I think we should increase the budget for the military, period. They're deployed more now than ever, and the federal cuts that the administration likes to boast about under reinventing government are really cuts in the military.

"I understand what the secretary's trying to do, but this is a long, drawn-out process," he said. "I think by the time we get serious about it, it will be a new Congress and maybe then, we can start addressing the funding of the military."

Originally Published, April 6, 1998 , Belleville News Democrat, Belleville, Illinois
(c) 1998, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.


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