Despite the very effective presentation made Wednesday at Fairbanks, it's still a long shot that Eielson Air Force Base can be saved as an active part of the military forces in Alaska.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission had Eielson on the hit list, big time. Its preliminary report, prepared by the Pentagon and now before the nine commissioner members for final review, calls for Eielson to be put on what it termed as ''warm-base'' status. That would, in the Pentagon view, keep the heat on in the wintertime but all of the resident personnel and aircraft would be shipped off to sunnier climes.
It is a preposterous proposal, evidently made by some midlevel staff officers who have no concept of what it means to keep the furnaces running at a base where the temperatures in the long winter months routinely drop to the minus 50-degree range.
''There is no such thing as a 'warm' facility in midwinter Alaska,'' Sen. Ted Stevens told the four commission members who were on hand for the rousing public hearing in Fairbanks' Carlson Center.
Stevens was among top state officials pleading the Eielson case. Others defending the importance of Eielson included Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Gov. Frank Murkowski, and two retired general officers: Pat Gamble, a retired Air Force four-star general who now is president of the Alaska Railroad, and retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hamilton, now the president of the statewide University of Alaska system.
The four commissioners are in Alaska to review not only the Eielson recommendation but also the BRAC proposal to close Kulis Air National Guard Base at Ted Stevens International Airport and to realign some major functions at Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base. The proposals altering military operations here are minor compared with the drastic action contemplated at Fairbanks.
There is no way to know whether the public support of Eielson will win the hearts and minds of the four commissioners who were here, including the BRAC chairman, Anthony Principi. Even if all four came away convinced that the proposal to close Eielson should be reversed, they still would have to convince a majority of the commission to go along with their judgment.
It could happen. But weeks of hearings across the country still are to come as the BRAC members consider the full Pentagon recommendations to close and realign more than 180 military facilities nationwide.
One theory is that the commissioners will not want to appear to a rubber stamp for the Pentagon recommendations. If that's the case, Eielson may be the perfect base to say the initial report erred and that Eielson should be preserved.
A long shot but Alaska's best hope.
Voice of the Times,
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