The Pentagon recommendation that Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks be put in some kind of an oddball ‘‘warm’’ status in other words, virtually shut down never made any sense to Air Force commanders who have spent time in Alaska and know first-hand of the value of that installation in the big national defense scheme of things.
Members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission known collectively as BRAC rebuffed the Pentagon recommendation in a 7-0 vote (Aug. 25), saving Eielson and in the process providing continued economic life to Fairbanks, North Pole and adjoining rural communities dependent on a vibrant military presence.
A number of well-known and long-standing Air Force, Army, Navy and National Guard installations across the country will be eliminated, unspared by the BRAC decisions of this past week. In those cases, the civilian members of BRAC agreed with the Pentagon and voted either to close or realign those bases.
Eielson was another matter. There is no other Air Force base like it in the country. There is no other place not even Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage that offers thousands of miles of open air space for training and maneuvers. There is nowhere else where the Air Force could base its men and equipment and provide training in an environment that is deeply cold in the winter and desert hot in the summer.
Former Air Force commanders, including four-star and three-star generals who have served here and still live here, testified to the members of BRAC about the unique position Eielson holds in the Air Force war power mission.
The suspicion is that a lower-level group of majors and maybe a lieutenant colonel or two, mostly number-crunchers in the innards of the Pentagon who have never served in active combat roles or ever set foot in Alaska, looked at Eielson as a nifty way to save money.
But putting Eielson in a ‘‘warm’’ status, as the Pentagon’s recommendation put it, would be ludicrous. Keeping the heat on at Eielson in the middle of winter, with only a handful of personnel assigned to the duty, would have been next to impossible, and terribly expensive and inefficient even if every now and then a unit would be sent there on temporary assignment for training purposes.
Eielson didn’t escape completely unscathed. The BRAC report that now goes to the president recommended that the 18 A-10 ground support jets be moved from Eielson. Too bad. They, too, fit well in the Alaska defense strategy. But Eielson will retain all 18 of its F-16 fighters, and the manpower to keep them flying.
Fairbanks and Alaska, with a gallant presentation, convinced BRAC of Eielson’s merit. And the nation will be well served.
The Voice of the Times,
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