It's not easy closing military bases. Jim Hansen is the first one to admit that.

"It's going to painful. Oh, holy cow, it's going to be painful — but it has to be done," said Hansen, the former Utah congressman who has been appointed to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

So why go through all the hassle?

Try $7 billion a year. That's how much Defense Department officials estimate they will save U.S. taxpayers by shutting down or realigning military bases.

Tell that to Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who predicts a near doomsday for the state if BRAC closes Hill Air Force Base.

"If Hill closes, worst-case scenario we'd be just as bad as we were during the Great Depression," Bishop said. "We can't let that happen."

The base pumps $2.8 billion a year into the state's economy and is the state's largest employer with nearly 24,000 employees.

The jobs pay pretty well, too. Salaries are almost double the average salary in the state, said Rick Mayfield, executive director of the Utah Defense Alliance.

Jason Archuleta knows a good employer when he sees one. That's why the Davis County resident kept applying for jobs at Hill for years.

Archuleta was so determined to work at Hill that he didn't let a little lack of experience stop him. He didn't even know what a machinist was when he applied for — and later landed — a job as one.

"I applied for every single job that came open for two years — this is what I got," Archuleta said. "It has great benefits, and it's a good place to work."

Davis County Commissioner Dannie McConkie can't understand why anyone would close such a valuable asset to the community. Closing Hill would devastate the state, he said.

"I can't even imagine what would happen" if Hill closed, McConkie said. "I don't even want to think about it."

But BRAC members must do what's best for the U.S. military, even if it means shattering communities along the way. It's not an easy job, Hansen said, but reducing excess capacity and saving the military billions of dollars is the right thing to do.

Critics say now is not the time to be closing bases, with thousands of troops returning home from abroad.

Any number of theories could explain the rationale for closing bases during wartime, "but none of them have been publicly articulated by (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld or the Department of Defense," said John Pike, a defense analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, a nonpartisan defense and research organization.

"The big challenge at this point is trying to understand the rationale for base closing," Pike said.


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