WARNER ROBINS -- For military communities, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission is kind of like a blind date. It could be awful, but it could also be great.
In previous BRACs, Robins Air Force Base has tended to find itself staring into the eyes of a beauty queen with brains.
From the 1995 BRAC, Robins gained the C-5 mission, which employs hundreds of people today in maintenance, program management and other support areas. In 2005, the base gained a Marine helicopter squadron, a Defense Logistics Agency distribution center and contractor positions, resulting in a net gain of 500 jobs.
But despite the positive history here, base supporters say they would still rather not face a BRAC.
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“You are never glad to see another BRAC,” said Mary Therese Tebbe, director of the 21st Partnership. “You would be crazy to want to see a BRAC.”
Whether Robins, and every other base in the Department of Defense, will face a BRAC in the near future is still uncertain.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is recommending a new BRAC for 2013 and another for 2015, but Congress still has to give the OK. Some members, including 8th District U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, whose district includes Robins, have come out in opposition to a new BRAC. He said Friday he does not expect the proposal to make it through the House Armed Services Committee, of which he is a member.
If there is a BRAC, community leaders say Robins is better positioned now than it has been in years past. Key factors the commission would consider, including operational performance, have improved significantly. In 2010, Robins was completing just over half its planes on time, but since Oct. 1, it has finished heavy maintenance on 54 planes, and all have been on time.
Encroachment, which refers to residential homes in an area north of the runways considered at risk for crashes, is well on its way to being resolved.
“We are in a very positive position right now,” said Ron Carbon, who held Tebbe’s job in the 2005 BRAC. “Our base is performing at a peak in the past several years. The entire base, as I can see, is performing well, and our community is improving. We are solving the encroachment issues. We are solving environmental impact on air quality.”
Robins considered for closure in 1995
The BRAC process can be a roller coaster ride because things can change all along the way. The Pentagon makes recommendations on base closures and other major changes, but the commission can do what it wants, then may make changes before the recommendations head to the president for approval. Congress doesn’t have to approve them but can vote them down.
The roller coaster happened for Robins in 1995. The Pentagon’s list did not put any of its five maintenance depots on the closure list, a great relief in the community when that was announced. But the BRAC commission wanted to consider closing at least one, so it looked at all five depots.
That caused considerable anxiety in Middle Georgia. Ultimately the commission voted to close two maintenance depots, one in Texas and another in California.
That led to speculation that then-President Bill Clinton would reject the recommendations because he needed California’s electoral votes to win re-election. Had that happened, Robins might have been in jeopardy all over again. While Clinton sharply criticized BRAC for closing the two depots, he ultimately signed off on it. As a result, Robins won the C-5 mission that had been done at the Texas depot, Kelly Air Force Base.
The 2005 BRAC was not nearly as stressful for Middle Georgia because Robins was never put on the closure list at any point.
Until the first BRAC in 1988, military branches would just decide to close bases, and many were closed that way, said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard, senior adviser to the 21st Century Partnership. Those decisions would typically be met with opposition by Congress members whose districts were impacted.
BRAC was created as an attempt to take politics out of the process. While there is always considerable political bluster surrounding BRAC, the end results mostly rise above it, Goddard said.
“They came up with the BRAC process as the only way to generally keep politics at bay,” Goddard said. “There’s always politics involved, but it is basically at bay.”
The first BRAC came in 1988, with others in 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005, which combined resulted in the closure of 350 military installations. Robins did not get serious scrutiny until the 1993 BRAC, which led to the creation of the 21st Century Partnership and a successful defense of the base.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.