BRAC Process Looms Ahead

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The Military Communities Council, representatives of Gov. Haley Barbour's office, and the Mississippi Development Authority met Friday in Meridian to talk about possible base closures that are slated for consideration in 2005.

The featured speaker was Bill Crawford, recently appointed by Barbour to head the state's fight against base closure. Crawford brought with him a stern warning.

"According to Secretary of Defense Rumfeld, (BRAC 2005) may close as many, as much infrastructure this time around, as in all previous rounds," Crawford said.

It's not just outright closure that troubles Crawford.

"The kicker that's in this year's criteria, that's different from before, is a specific case where DOD can put bases into long term care status or mothball facilities," Crawford said. "In other words, they close you down, but they don't let you put anything there. They just freeze the asset in case they need it later."

It means communities could find no other use for the property.

In March 2005, the BRAC Commission is appointed. In mid-May the list for closure is published. From May to September the commission makes community visits. In September it ends its work, makes recommendations to the Congress, which then votes the list up or down.

"NAS Meridian is the Navy's initial jet training installation. NAS Meridian is vital to the naval aviation and national security. That's not our word. This is the Navy speaking in 2003. And we want to shove this right back at them," said Lamar McDonald, who is a veteran member of the Navy Meridian Team.

BRAC criteria makes it plain that base commanders will be asked to argue why their base should be spared from closure.

Col. Erik Hearon, wing commander of the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Mississippi National Guard will have that job on behalf of his unit.

"We're absolutely ready, and the thing that we're doing to be most prepared is to show our military value every day that we can," said Hearon. "Look for new opportunities to serve as well as being sure that we're doing the most professional job that we can, every day, day in and day out, both here in the Meridian area as well as throughout the United States and the world."

McDonald praised elected officials for designating taxpayer dollars for the fight, but said private money will be needed as well.