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Chamber enlisted to keep MacDill open

A retired general encourages the group's board to find ways to influence the panel examining base closings.

By JEFF HARRINGTON
Published March 25, 2005


TAMPA - Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Arthur "Chip" Diehl came here looking for a few good business contacts.

On a mission to keep MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa off of the military's base closing list, Diehl visited the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce board at its monthly meeting Thursday morning to rally the business community.

His suggestions: Work any contacts the executives have on the nine-member military commission that is recommending which bases to close. Present a unified front if and when panel members visit Tampa. And downplay what could be the base's biggest liability: a concern that it's hemmed in by residential development.

The retired general, formerly with MacDill's U.S. Central Command, said he believes there is adequate space for aircraft entering and leaving MacDill's air space. The only possible squeeze is in a small northeast area that includes 100-year-old homes.

"We do not in my opinion have an encroachment problem," Diehl said. "There's been no encroachment (issue) in five years."

Pentagon officials have indicated all 425 domestic bases are under scrutiny as the military looks to squeeze efficiencies and billions of dollars in savings from a Cold War installation network that has nearly 25 percent more capacity than what the armed services say they need.

Gov. Jeb Bush has said he would be shocked if MacDill closed. In addition to being headquarters for Central Command, which oversaw the war in Iraq, the base houses U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees the nation's secret commandoes.

Bush and the state's congressional delegation have been waging a campaign to protect 21 installations, including MacDill, that generate $44-billion a year for the economy, second only to tourism and agriculture in the state.

MacDill has a $6.5-billion economic effect on the region. About 7,000 military and civilian personnel work on base, making it one of the region's top four employers.

This month, the U.S. Senate approved Anthony Principi, a former secretary of veterans affairs, as head of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, widely known as the BRAC. The Senate must approve the nine members of the panel.

The timetable, as outlined by Diehl, moves quickly from here. On May 16, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will present his recommendations to the BRAC; by Sept. 8, the commission is to forward its recommendations to the Oval Office; by Sept. 23, President Bush is slated to approve or disapprove each closing and realignment; Congress then has 45 days to act.

"We're about to enter the fourth quarter of a process . . . that we can't afford to lose," Diehl said in a presentation laden with sports analogies. "Let's continue to promote what got us to this lead."

He shared a list of the BRAC commissioners and urged chamber members to examine their spheres of relationships to find a one-on-one connection that would help in lobbying. Former Gov. Bob Martinez, who said he recognized at least one commission member, suggested chamber leaders write members of the base-closing panel.

The four previous rounds of base closures in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 eliminated 97 bases and several hundred smaller facilities, and reduced capacity by 20 percent.

During previous rounds, the focus was on the military value of each base. This time, military value is just one of the criteria; others include the economic effect of the base, infrastructure needs and environmental issues.

Times files were used in this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at harrington@sptimes.com or 813 226-3407.

PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEES

President Bush has nominated these people to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The Senate must confirm their selection.

James Bilbray of Nevada, a former Army reservist and congressman.

Philip Coyle of California, a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information and a former assistant defense secretary.

Harold Gehman Jr. of Virginia, a retired Navy admiral.

James Hansen of Utah, a Navy veteran and former congressman.

James Hill of Florida, a retired Army general and former combatant commander of the U.S. Southern Command.

Claude Kicklighter of Georgia, a retired Army lieutenant general.

Samuel Knox Skinner of Illinois, former transportation secretary.

Sue Ellen Turner of Texas, a retired Air Force brigadier general.

[Last modified March 25, 2005, 01:00:17]


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