Monday, February 13, 2017

Just say no to BRAC

BRAC is back, and at the worst possible time.
The vice chiefs of the Army and Air Force on Tuesday threw their support behind another round of base closures as a way to save substantial amounts of money that can be put to use for the military’s other needs.

"It's real money that we really need to reinvest into deferred maintenance and infrastructure backlog," Gen. Daniel Allyn, the Army's vice chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Gen. Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff for the Air Force, agreed: "In today's budget environment, it makes sense to invest wisely, so BRAC would help us make smart investments to prepare for the future.”

Wilson and Allyn were testifying alongside their Marines and Navy counterparts on the state of the military. They painted a bleak picture, lamenting that budget cuts have slashed the readiness of the force to fight in a war against a high-end adversary such as Russia. 
But the closure process, known as Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), has been a politically unpopular solution to the issue. Lawmakers in both parties oppose BRAC because of the potential for negative economic impact on the communities around bases.

The last round of BRAC was in 2005, and under current law, another round is banned.
I feel dirty just reading that. If anyone uses the terms, "wisely" and "smart investments," they are simply insulting the listener by implying that, if you don't agree, then you are "dull" and "stupid."

Well General Wilson - pack sand.

There are a lot of reasons not to support a new series of base closures, but the top one should be that in 2017 we are looking at growing our military, not shrinking it.

There is a certain logic to doing a BRAC for those who live and breathe inside the Beltway and see things only through the refracted light of the green eye-shade, and that is the problem. They drive the discussion.

There is a lot more to military base utility than a simple spreadsheet snapshot in a time of peace, you have to look at why you have a military to begin with; to fight and win your nation's wars.

Let me give you a few bulleted items to consider as to why we should firmly say no to a new BRAC. 

In no specific order;

1. Quality of life/work: In the course of my couple decades of military service, I had the pleasure of being stationed at small, medium and large bases on both coasts. The ability to get to work, home from work, and to get actual work done at small bases was always much better than the large, impersonal, industrial sized bases. Living out in the economy (I never lived in and do not support base housing) was easier, and the military has a lighter impact on the host community.

2. Risk mitigation: Just put on your "red hat" for a few minutes, study your history, and then tell me again why it is best to have all your military forces packed in to a few static locations. If I need to say more, then you really aren't paying attention.

3. National presence: The cynic thinks we should have military bases scattered around in order to increase support for the military in Congress. As anyone from the former Representative Dellums (D-CA) district would tell you, that theory only works on the margins. I am more interested in a higher purpose - the people and their representatives need to know people in their neighborhood who fight their nation's wars. Nothing bridges the military-civilian divide as being neighbors. As an unalloyed Southerner, I am quite happy that so much of the officer corp is Southern and Western - but I don't think it is good for the nation as a whole to make that skew worse by packing military bases in the South and West. The paucity of military bases remaining in New England, for instance. Tell me that is good for DOD or the people of New England or the nation.

4. Redundancy: Saturate the Virginia Tidewater area or San Diego with a large "dirty bomb" - or give the bad guys a "Weekend Boat Club" number of remote control boats. See #2. No need to say more.

5. Surge capability: Hey, stuff happens. We need to grow from 350 to 500 ships, and the Army, USAF and USMC need to grow 50% in the next three years? In a nation of 320 million and growing - where are you going to find the next Ft. Hood or Norfolk when they are already at maximum capacity?

6. When you lose it, you don't get it back: If you squint your eyes a bit and grab a few bags of cash to buy people out - you can almost see on the East Coast being able to re-militarize North Charleston and Cecil Field. Almost. Many of the other areas, not so sure. The last BRAC didn't just cut away a few extra bits of fat, it took out huge chunks of meat and bone.

7. Politics, developers and petty corruptions: Don't discount that many people want the land military bases are on. In an increasingly crowded nation, especially along the coasts, the military has some prime land. People want it for their own purposes. As in many things in politics; follow the money.

Back to the beginning. Let's just look at our Navy. If we are going to grow to 350, where are we going to put them if we close down what few naval bases we have left? One could argue that we should be looking again at what we may need to claw back from the last BRAC. I still get cold sweats every Christmas when I look at "Murderer's Row" in Norfolk.

Our fleet needs to be more dispersed not less. Say no to BRAC and let's invest our political capital instead on growing the Fleet of the future, and improving the one we have now.

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