WASHINGTON – With proposals to trim the nation’s military bases rolling toward approval, Maryland’s installations must now begin the yearslong task of relocating thousands of personnel from inside and outside the state.
President Bush sent the report of the independent Base Realignment and Closure commission to the Capitol late Thursday, effectively guaranteeing its passage.
Though Congress has 45 days to reject the report it has never happened in four previous rounds of closures dating back to 1988 and is not expected to happen this time, either.
Maryland was arguably the biggest winner of the current round, as more than 9,000 personnel will be added or redistributed among its facilities. The state was also one of the largest beneficiaries from base closures in neighboring states.
“This influx of thousands of defense-related jobs will help fuel our state’s economy for years to come,” Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., said in a statement.
But now instead of bracing for closures, which occurred earlier in the year when a handful of Maryland bases were thought to be on the chopping block, military officials in the state have the new challenge of merging and expanding their operations.
When the 45-day period expires – making the BRAC report law – all installations included in the report must initiate changes within two years and complete them within six years.
Aberdeen Proving Ground expects about 2,200 new personnel and Andrews Air Force Base is slated to gain 400, according to the commission’s report.
“We’ve been very busy,” said George Mercer, a spokesman for the Aberdeen base. “Pretty much when the initial BRAC announcement was made, we were given marching orders to prepare as if this is going to happen.”
Fort Meade is by far the largest gainer in the state under the report’s findings, as several military functions scattered across the country will be consolidated in the complex near Laurel, a personnel gain of more than 5,300.
The National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda will grow largely because of its pending merger with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, resulting in an influx of nearly 1,900 personnel to Montgomery County.
Spokeswoman Ellen Maurer said the Bethesda center is still holding off on any expansion moves until the commission’s report officially passes through Congress, but that planning has been in the works for some time.
Maurer did say there is a sense of excitement in the center about having the best of both military branches’ medical staff in one place.
That is, until the Army-Navy football game comes around.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, other than more people watching TV,” said Maurer, who served in the Navy before her current position. “That would be something we should embrace and have fun with.”
It is unlikely that Congress will authorize more base closures anytime in the near future, as this round was particularly painful for members whose districts suffered closures.
“They will be reluctant to put themselves through this again,” said Christopher Hellman, a BRAC expert with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “You will need the institutional memory to evaporate.”
But Hellman says there will always be a need for future commissions, which have been reauthorized over the years to reduce residual excess since the nation’s Cold War-era military buildup. “BRAC is more than just closing bases. It’s about providing the Department of Defense with the capability to make fairly dramatic changes in their force structure.” – 30 – CNS-9-16-05