WARNER ROBINS -- Robins Air Force Base supporters believe they can make a worthy case for protecting jobs at the base if Congress approves a call for a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced during a Pentagon news conference Thursday that President Obama will call for a new BRAC. The proposal recommends one BRAC in 2013 and another in 2015.
The commissions would look at closing and realigning military bases, or shifting missions to help the Department of Defense meet substantial budget reduction goals.
If approved, a new BRAC will have military communities across the nation mobilizing to defend their bases. The 21st Century Partnership will lead the effort in Middle Georgia to prepare for BRAC.
Board chairman Brad Fink said he believes Robins is well positioned for it.
“I think our production numbers and base leadership have such great momentum, and that’s going to be key,” he said. “We are going to look for gains on this as well and pick up new missions.”
Robins employs 23,000 people and has an economic impact of $4.27 billion in Georgia. The last BRAC in 2005 led to a gain of hundreds of jobs at Robins, the largest single-site employer in the state.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard, senior adviser of the 21st Century Partnership, is skeptical Congress will agree to two BRACs.
“I don’t think Congress will ever approve that,” said Goddard, former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center. “At least that’s what we are told.”
Eighth District U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, whose district includes Robins, vowed to fight a new BRAC. Scott, R-Ga., serves on the House Armed Services Committee and its Readiness Subcommittee, which will be the first to deal with the BRAC recommendation. Scott said he is “absolutely opposed to BRAC and the reductions as they have been presented.”
If there is a BRAC, he expressed confidence Robins will be protected because the Air Force has committed to keeping three maintenance depots. The other two are Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
Scott said he would be open to closing some overseas bases, saying U.S. allies should take more responsibility for their own defense.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., issued a statement after the announcement questioning the projected savings from previous BRAC rounds. He said those savings often did not become reality.
“Therefore, I will examine any request for a new BRAC round, as well as any specific recommendation by DoD with respect to closing any installation, very closely to ensure all data and assumptions regarding savings are accurate,” Chambliss said. “I am convinced that installations in Georgia will be able to demonstrate their high military value in any BRAC round, and I stand ready to work with military bases and their communities in Georgia to highlight the strategic national security significance of every Georgia DoD installation.”
Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said he had been hearing a BRAC could be coming as early as 2013, so he was not surprised at the announcement.
“I think Robins Air Force Base will prove that it is a viable component of the military structure, and I think as long as everyone does what they should do outside the base, it will be a strong defense as they go through the process,” Stalnaker said. “I’ve got confidence in the leadership of Robins and the people who work at Robins, and I’ve got confidence in the community.”
Houston County voters will head to the polls March 6 to decide a special purpose local option sales tax referendum that includes $7 million toward resolving an issue referred to as “encroachment.” It -- along with other funding sources including potentially the state -- would go to buy up homes north of the base in an area the Department of Defense deems at risk for crashes and high noise.
Base supporters said resolving the issue is vital to defending the base during a BRAC process because encroachment is an important consideration when the BRAC team is evaluating a base.
Panetta made Thursday’s announcement along with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while discussing details of the proposed defense budget. The budget cuts $487 billion over the next 10 years, with $259 billion coming in the next five years.
“The military will be smaller and leaner, but it will be more agile, flexible, rapidly deployable and technologically advanced,” Panetta said.
Panetta said the budget will cut active duty personnel in the Army and Marines, while investing in technology and unmanned aircraft. He said it also calls for some C-130s and C-5s to be retired.
Scott said the proposal, which still has to be approved by Congress, calls for retiring 27 C-5As, the oldest model of the C-5 fleet built from 1968-73. He said 35 of about 300 C-130s would be retired.
Robins is home to a wide array of missions, but its heart is the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center. The center performs heavy maintenance and life-cycle management on the F-15 fighter, and three major cargo planes, the C-5, C-17 and the C-130.
A new BRAC has long been anticipated. The 2005 BRAC report recommended a new BRAC by 2015.
A call to Robins seeking comment about the BRAC and budget announcements was not returned.
In November base officials announced an initiative to cut 600 jobs through offering voluntary buyouts for employees to retire or quit. The cuts are part of larger Air Force initiative to cut personnel numbers and meet budget reduction goals.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.