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July 15, 2001 The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on military spending

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2001

The news of last Wednesday seems almost laughable now. The front page headline read, ''Hospital funds said key to fort survival.'' But we shouldn't count those funds before they're hospital rooms and beds.

The story was about Sen. Ted Stevens' efforts to boost funding for our stalled Fort Wainwright hospital project by $82 million.

The project ground to a halt earlier this year when bids came in well over the $133 million Congress had already approved for the project.

Stevens said that if the new $215 million proposal were to fail, it could mean bad news. ''If we lost that hospital, we'd lose the base,'' he said.

The statement seems logical enough. Adequate medical services are a key piece of infrastructure for the local bases.

To boot, Pentagon officials said recently that they hope to close more bases around the country. And, of course, just this past week we saw the date of the completed downsizing of Fort Greely.

But we barely caught wind of these possibilities before they were blown away in a rush of activity at the week's end.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization announced a new focus, and the possibility of billions of dollars spent, on testing missile defense systems -- lots of testing. The range would now include Kodiak Island and, you guessed it, Fort Greely. An $8 million contract for preparatory work could be awarded as early as Aug. 15 at Greely.

Pentagon officials said the new testing plan includes a storage area for five to 10 missiles at Greely. The missiles would be shipped from Greely to the Kodiak Island launch complex.

Concurrently, the U.S. Army announced plans to revamp the 172nd Infantry Brigade in Alaska, consisting of 2,800 soldiers at Fort Wainwright and 700 at Fort Richardson near Anchorage.

The unit will become one of six ''Interim Brigade Combat Teams'' intended to become lighter-weight, faster-moving and more lethal units. More than a simple replacement of equipment, the plan appears to be a nearly complete revamping of the brigade mission. These changes won't come cheap.

President Bush's latest budget contains $158 million for military construction in Alaska during the coming fiscal year. That includes $12 million for new family housing at Fort Wainwright, $23 million to address ice fog problems caused by the power plant and $18.5 million for the new hospital.

None of this goes to guarantee those hospital funds, but the picture looks much more positive than just six days ago.

No doubt Sen. Stevens saw these possibilities on the horizon even as he made the comment about the hospital funds early this week.

We should take note of that. If Stevens, informed as he is, keeps up his guard where military cutbacks are concerned, so should we all.



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