Military: Alaska installations exposed

Sen. Stevens' office says in reality, state's bases are essential national defense player

Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Military leaders in Alaska have long touted the state as an ideal location for global operations, but that strategic edge may not cut it in the latest round of planned U.S. base closures, officials said Tuesday.

This time around, even major installations aren't immune to a list of recommended closures to be announced this week by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"I think every single military installation is vulnerable," said Maj. James Law, a spokesman for the Alaskan Command. "Nobody is off limits. Every single installation is being looked at."

That concern among military members may be true on paper, but in reality Alaska bases are essential players in the nation's defense, said a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Alaska has seen a recent rebound in military personnel, following a decline in the 1990s. Much of the heightened military presence is due to the new Stryker Brigade and development of missile defense system components, said Courtney Schikora Boone, Stevens' spokeswoman.

Boone, like military officials in Alaska, declined to speculate what bases will be included in Rumsfeld's recommendations for closing and realigning bases. An independent commission will review the recommendations expected to be unveiled Friday and has until Sept. 8 to submit a final report to President Bush.

"Yes, Alaska bases are like all other bases and being evaluated. That's part of the process," Boone said. "But clearly Alaska has a particularly good relationship with the military and Sen. Stevens has made it a priority that the state is utilized for its military capabilities, especially for its strategic location for deployment and its immense training grounds."

Alaska has two major Army posts - Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks and Fort Richardson just north of Anchorage - and two major Air Force bases - Eielson, southeast of Fairbanks, and Elmendorf, just north of downtown Anchorage.

Fort Greely, targeted in the last round of closures in 1995, has been resurrected as a primary site of the new national ballistic missile defense system.

There also are numerous smaller installations scattered across the state.

Altogether, the military accounts for 23,550 active, reserve and National Guard personnel in Alaska, including about 2,300 military men and women are deployed around the world. Figure in family members and civilian workers and the numbers top 61,000, officials said.

"The military is a basic pillar in Alaska, like fishing and oil industries," he said. "It's also growing, bringing new cash to Alaska's economy. It's exporting defense to the rest of the country."

Nearly 30 percent of federal dollars spent in the state are tied to the Department of Defense, according to Neal Fried, a state labor economist. And 57 percent of all wages paid by the federal government go to the military.

"There's no doubt a closure would have a significant impact," Fried said.

Whatever site makes the list will be visited by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, said Philip Coyle, a former Pentagon official appointed to the nine-member panel. Coyle said he doesn't yet know what bases are being targeted but said that each one will be carefully and publicly examined.

"We will visit any base nominated for closure - and we want to hear from people who would be affected," Coyle said. "It's part of the way we will determine if the DOD has done its job."

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