There were gasps heard around the world on Thursday when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced -- not just one round of Base Realignment and Closure sessions -- but two, in 2013 and another in 2015.
While the announcement may have surprised some, it shouldn’t have. Warning flares were being fired in 2008 before Rep. Jim Marshall left office. Marshall was able to block a shift that would have transferred virtually all personnel management functions to the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Marshall, defeated by Rep. Austin Scott, is not around to advocate for the base that has already seen a loss of jobs and command moxie. Gen. Robert McMahon, a two star, will be replaced by a one-star general who reports to the command staff at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
But all is not bleak at Robins, even in the face of massive defense cuts over the next decade. The encroachment issue that threatens the base is well on the road to being a non-issue. There are 250 parcels in Bibb and Houston counties, 157 with structures. One hundred and thirty appraisals have been completed, 35 properties have already been secured, 17 contracts are waiting for closing and another 20 are appraised and waiting on contracts.
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After 20 years, there will be money to purchase all the properties. Bibb County took a big step in November when it passed a special purpose local option sales tax that will secure $6 million. Peach County had already committed $200,000 and Houston County will add $7 million if its SPLOST proposal is successful March 6. State and Department of Defense grants will provide the remainder.
With recent improvements in performance at Robins, the base stands a very good chance of weathering the BRAC storms headed our way. Area leaders are optimistic that the proficiency of Robins will make it a top candidate for additional missions.
Before we break out the champagne, though, it’s important to note that the military will still shrink. The Army will lose 80,000 troops and the Marines 20,000. High profile weapon systems such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be cut back or eliminated. And we should not underestimate the constituencies of Tinker Air Force Base and Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
We were late to the game in solving the encroachment issue, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Now it’s up to the 23,000 base employees who generate an economic impact of $4.27 billion annually to keep Robins the most efficient and productive in the Air Force.
-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board