HAFB's survival odds difficult to forecast

Process is secretive, competition tough, variables abound

Published: Tuesday, April 26 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Hill Air Force Base workers Shayla Gilbert, left, and Bruce Archer work on B-52 wheels recently. Vickie McCall, president of the Utah Defense Alliance, believes a big realignment isn't out of the question for HAFB.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

Third in a four-part series.

The competition is fierce.

And with so many bases fighting to survive the next round of closures, it's hard to determine the odds.

Hill Air Force Base is not only competing with eight other major military depots. It must also contend with threats of privatization and even unrelated business ventures, said Vickie McCall, president of the Utah Defense Alliance.

"We'll compete with the best of the best," McCall said.

Nobody really knows how each base will be compared. The entire Base Realignment and Closure process is extremely secretive.

Commanders of every military installation recently sent the Defense Department answers to thousands of questions pertaining to personnel, infrastructure and equipment. That data is currently being reviewed by the Defense Department and will not be released until the BRAC list of bases proposed for closure comes out on or before May 16.

"We don't know how the commission is going to compare," said Kari Tilton, a Hill spokeswoman. "There is going to be some apples to apples, there is going to be some apples to oranges. It's complicated."

Military togetherness

Three major maintenance depots remain in the entire Air Force.

BRAC shut down two bases with air logistics centers during the 1995 round of base closures. Hill escaped that year, but Kelly and McClellan Air Force bases in San Antonio and Sacramento, Calif., didn't make the cut.

Hill Air Force Base remains, as do Robins and Tinker Air Force bases in Georgia and Oklahoma. But these maintenance-based installations, also known as "air logistics centers," are not competing against each other for survival. In fact, they are the future of the U.S. military, McCall said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's call for "jointness"?

"We've already got that in all of our (air logistics centers)," McCall said.

Rumsfeld has called for a transformation of the military that calls for teamwork among every branch of the military in the post-Cold War era.

Key to this transformation is creating jointness — a strategy that will improve efficiency levels across the Department of Defense. In this new, transformed, military, airmen will train with soldiers, Marines with seamen — all branches of the military will train and deploy together. Depots from every branch of the military will work together to maintain expensive defense equipment.

"Jointness is an important part of the BRAC process," Philip Grone, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, recently told the House Armed Services Committee.

The air logistics centers at Hill, Robins and Tinker Air Force bases are the perfect place to execute Rumsfeld's transformation, said Ron Carbon, executive director of 21st Century Partnership, a group lobbying to save Robins Air Force Base.

Work at some Army and even Navy maintenance depots could be transferred to one of the remaining Air Force air logistics centers, he said.

"We have some very large bases, we have the ability to receive new missions, and we don't have any operational restrictions," Carbon said. "We can easily serve the roles that the (Department of Defense) is wanting to do."

Private-sector competition

Even if Utah's bases are not shut down, they could lose some of their workload to private contractors.

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