Base-closing commission votes to move Army test center office to Fort Greely

Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2005

ANCHORAGE - The offices for the Army's Cold Regions Test Center would be moved to Fort Greely in Alaska's Interior under a plan approved Wednesday by a commission reviewing proposed base closings and realignments.

The move is fairly minor, involving relocating five workers from Fort Wainwright about 100 miles northwest of Fort Greely, where the actual testing grounds already are located.

"They've been driving back and forth," said Linda Douglass, Wainwright spokeswoman. "It's a long drive."

Established in 1949 as the Arctic Test Branch, the center uses more than 670,000 acres of ranges, controlled airspace and consistent cold weather to test equipment and operations for soldiers working in harsh conditions, officials said.

The Wainwright plan is among several proposals affecting Alaska that are undergoing final review by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. They are among more than a record 62 major military bases and 775 smaller installations targeted nationwide by the Pentagon for closure or changes to save $48.8 billion over 20 years.

The Alaska proposals - on the list released by the Department of Defense in May - would amount to the loss of more than 4,800 military and civilian jobs statewide.

Of the installations targeted in the state, the proposal to put Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks on "warm status" has caused the loudest outrage and formation of the Save Eielson Task Force. The base, about 30 miles south of Fairbanks, had a $400 million impact on the region last year, officials said.

Critics said stripping the base of fighter planes and about 3,000 jobs would be a critical blow on the local economy. Alaska's congressional delegation said it would seriously weaken national security, particularly when forces have been reduced in Korea.

As envisioned by the Pentagon, the 354th Fighter Wing's fighter aircraft would be distributed to other installations in the Lower 48. Only the 168th air refueling wing, a National Guard unit, would remain.

The Air Force has said the changes would save it $229 million a year. Eielson would remain open for training exercises for visiting squadrons.

No major installation was targeted for closure in Alaska, but Kulis Air National Guard Base in Anchorage would be shuttered and its mission, aircraft and personnel moved across town to Elmendorf Air Force Base. Also facing closure is the Galena Airport Forward Operation Location, which was among 12 installations added to the elimination list in July by the BRAC commission.

The Galena proposal was another sore point for Interior and state officials who said closure would devastate the economy of the Yukon River village of 700, about 270 miles west of Fairbanks. BRAC commissioners have suggested that Eielson could take on Galena's reduced function even if Eielson's own role is diminished.

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