Legislators address military budget cuts


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Alaskans who are concerned at the recent pattern of news regarding the future size and structure of the military presence in our state should be reassured that their legislative leaders are working together to address it.

The news has been disturbing:

• The Pentagon has recently announced plans to slash $487 billion from budget over the next 10 years, leading to a drawdown of about 90,000 soldiers and Marines.

• The U.S. Air Force announced last week its Strategic Reconfiguration plans, which call for transferring the F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf/Richardson, and JBER losing four C-130s to Lower 48 facilities.

• Civilian workforces at both bases are slated to take significant hits, dropping by about 220 at JBER, and 50 at Eielson.

• And if Congress fails to responsibly address the budget deficit, the so-called “budget sequestration” process would lead to a possible half trillion dollars in automatic military budget cuts, which could have similarly drastic effects in Alaska.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has recently raised the possibility of another round in the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, to bring domestic base structures in line with a new scaled-back vision for the military’s future, oriented more toward Asia and the Pacific regions.

At the last BRAC round in 2005, Alaska was forced to close the Galena and King Salmon forward air stations, shutter Kulis Air National Guard Base, wave goodbye to the A-10s squadron from Eielson, and combine Elmendorf Air Force Base and Ft. Richardson Army Post into a joint base.

We must do everything possible to resist such cuts from again hurting our state. The men and women of Alaska’s military, and the facilities where they live and work, are essential to our nation’s security and critical threads in the fabric of our state’s economy.

Alaska’s strategic location means our military forces can reach trouble spots in Asia or Europe within hours. Our wide-open spaces, including the Joint Alaska-Pacific Range Complex, offer an unmatched military training environment. Our varied climate prepares soldiers and airmen to operate anywhere in the world. And our civilian support of the military is unequalled in the nation.

There are 32 military installations, critical elements of our state economy. We have more than 24,000 active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops serving in Alaska, with an annual payroll of more than $1.5 billion. About 13 percent of the state economy depends on the military, with the impact more strongly felt near larger installations. These are important contributions to our state, and we’d hate to lose any part of them.

We are taking steps to address the situation:

• We are working with Gov. Sean Parnell to win rapid authorization of $300,000 in the supplemental budget to secure the services of national experts to help coordinate anti-BRAC efforts.

• We have introduced HB 316 to create “military facilities zones” as conduits for federal and state financial resources to help bases function more effectively, and be less susceptible to closure.

• Our House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will soon consider a resolution expressing to the president and Congress the Alaska Legislature’s strong opposition to BRAC closures in Alaska.

• The governor’s Alaska Military Force Advocacy Structure Team is advising him on how to defend current, and attract future, Alaska military missions.

• We are consulting with military leaders and the state’s Congressional delegation to plan a coordinated state response.

• And our Congressional delegation has introduced federal legislation to block transfer of F-16s from Eielson.

Co-ordinated action can work. In 2005, when BRAC threatened Eielson, Fairbanks came together with strong state support to defend the base, show how the estimated savings of closure were overstated, and successfully keep the base open, though it did lose its A-10s.

If we are to defend Alaska’s military bases, and the benefits they bring to our national defense and state economy, we must again work together to make our case to local and national military leaders. We’re mounting that effort, and look forward to working with all Alaskans for the long-term benefit of our state and our nation.

 

Representative Dan Saddler represents District 18, including Joint Base Elmendorf/Richardson. Rep. Steve Thompson represents District 10, including Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright Army Post. They are co-chairs of the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs.

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