We never expected the severity of the recommendations made yesterday by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
We had looked for little or no reductions in military forces here or in the mission of the Army and Air Force units on duty in the 49th State. What happened was just the opposite. Alaska took it in the chops.
Worst hit was Eielson Air Force Base at Fairbanks. If the Rumsfeld plan holds through the entire process and is incorporated in the final report by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, Eielson basically will be history at the cost of almost 4,700 jobs.
The Rumsfeld recommendations would move Eielson's complement of A-10 and F-16 fighter aircraft to bases in Georgia, Louisiana and Idaho.
The effect could be devastating on the Fairbanks economy. Anchorage didn't escape unscathed, either. Not by a long shot, unfortunately.
Fort Richardson, the large Army post that has been a big factor in Anchorage's life since the days of World War II, will be ''consolidated'' with Elmendorf Air Force Base for installation management purposes, and its civilian personnel operations will be shipped to Arizona. Net loss: 286 jobs.
Elmendorf to use the Defense Department's nomenclature will be ''realigned,'' becoming a joint base with Fort Rich. The exact meaning of that is not immediately clear. What is clear, according the Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, is that Elmendorf could lose 24 of its F-15 and 21 of its F-15E aircraft, which would be a huge blow.
Meanwhile, Kulis National Guard Station at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport will be closed. Its airplanes and personnel will be moved to Elmendorf.
Fort Wainwright, at Fairbanks, also will be ''realigned'' which in its case apparently means moving its Cold Region Test Center down the highway to Fort Greely. Again, the impact of that on jobs in the Fairbanks area is not immediately known.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the loss of direct and indirect employment ''in the Fairbanks area alone would be a huge blow to that community's economic and social well being not just from tax revenue or a local business standpoint, but also the number of families that would be leaving, impacting schools, churches, and community services.''
Stevens, it's safe to say, was shocked by the Rumsfeld plan. He said he would protest to the full BRAC panel, especially with respect to Eielson. ''I think it is wrong to leave our area without fighter protection and it is wrong from a national security point of view. . . .''
Both senators said there are still months to go before the cuts are finalized. But the shadows have now been cast, and the outlook is not good.
Voice of the Times,
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