Eielson defenders focus on strategic need for base

Groups must present plan for sparing the base by June 8

Posted: Friday, May 27, 2005

FAIRBANKS - State and Fairbanks officials will focus on Eielson Air Force Base's strategic importance and value as a cold-climate training area as reasons for the base to stay at full strength.

Two groups working to save Eielson from a Pentagon list of recommended base realignments held their first joint meeting Wednesday.

Jim Dodson, chairman of a state committee put together by Gov. Frank Murkowski and a local group formed by Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker, brought both together for an informational meeting.

The Department of Defense on May 13 recommended reducing troop strength at Eielson by nearly 3,000 military personnel.

The groups will try to persuade the Base Closure and Realignment Commission to spare Eielson. They plan to have the first draft of that presentation completed by June 8.

The BRAC commission will hold a regional hearing June 15 in Fairbanks. To have a base removed from the list, the group must demonstrate that the Defense Department deviated substantially from its closure guidelines. A simple majority of the nine-member commission must approve the change.

The justification for reducing troop strength at Eielson boils down to one of economics, Murkowski said. The Pentagon plan calls for saving about $220 million a year by realigning Eielson.

The groups plan to counter that argument by focusing on Eielson's value to national defense.

Gen. Craig Campbell, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, said Eielson was important because of training opportunities it offered in extreme cold.

"You can't train that way anyplace else," he said. "Losing that training ability in Arctic conditions would hurt America."

Campbell also questioned the cost of maintaining Eielson's equipment and airstrip for future training exercises while not keeping many personnel on the base. The Alaska Air National Guard will maintain a small presence at Eielson.

"That raises the question of how much savings there actually is if the base still has to be maintained," Campbell said.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has said the Pentagon did not weigh Eielson's strategic location when considering its military value.

University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton, a retired Army general, will make the local presentation to BRAC commissioners.

"I think we have a very good case and I fully expect us to win," Hamilton said.

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