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Published: 5/4/2005

Supporters argue case for base

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON - The director of the Air National Guard met on Capitol Hill yesterday with supporters of keeping the Ohio Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing based at Toledo Express Airport.

Lt. Gen. Daniel James, who has one of seven seats at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's table on the Pentagon's base-closure task force, met with Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and Paul Gillmor (R., Old Fort), who argued for keeping the Air National Guard base in Toledo.

Other Toledo supporters at the meeting were Robert Decker, a Delta pilot and former fighter squadron commander, and Terry Paul, a retired Marine Corps brigadier general hired to help lobby for the Toledo base.

In the fifth and final round of the Base Realignment and Closure process, known as BRAC, Mr. Rumsfeld is finalizing a list of dozens of base closings that he says would save several billion dollars. But the closings also threaten to devastate many communities.

Backers of the Guard unit in Toledo say the base employs 1,343 and estimate that it contributes about $70 million to the economy. This round of base closings is the first to target National Guard bases. Ohio has four bases.

Mr. Rumsfeld's list goes to the BRAC commission, appointed by President Bush, and that commission sends it to the White House on Sept. 8. Mr. Bush has until Sept. 23 to accept or reject the entire list.

Congress then must approve the list. The process is expected to be completed in November.

General James made no public comment after the meeting, which was closed, but Miss Kaptur said, "My feeling was a very good feeling. General James said the 180th has a proud heritage and said it's an excellent unit. Not good, but excellent. His word, not mine."

Mr. Gillmor said, "I had a good feeling too. I think we've done everything we can do. You couldn't have had a better presentation. But [on base closings] you just can't tell. Nobody knows."

Mr. Decker said, "You can't go higher [during the current process] than the chief Air Guard general. And I think we made the case that the military value [of the Toledo base] is as good as it can be."

Supporters argue that the base has high military value, which the Pentagon says is a key consideration, and that it has solid support from the community, is fully manned, and has a large air space and potential other uses.

The 180th is slated to be deployed in southeast Asia this summer, said Mr. Decker, who said the base has about 17 F-16 planes but could handle 24.

Miss Kaptur said General James knew about the Toledo Port Authority's contributions to the Guard, including snow removal from the 10,000-foot runway. She said he knew the base was modernized since Congress has authorized roughly $35 million for it in the past 15 years.

Until the Pentagon puts out its list, which it must do by May 16, there will be a blitz of lobbying efforts as every community near one of the 425 U.S. military bases makes a case for keeping their bases open.

After recently inspecting the base, Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) said politics will play a small role in the decision on which bases to close.

Once a base makes the Pentagon's target list for being closed, the chances of getting it removed are only about 10 percent. The process of closing bases was changed in the 1980s after the Pentagon repeatedly ran into political landmines whenever it tried to shut down popular bases.

After the meeting, Mr. Gillmor noted that the Pentagon's list reportedly is slated to be made public on Friday the 13th. "That's bad for some, but good for us, I'm sure," he said optimistically.

Contact Ann McFeatters at: amcfeatters@nationalpress.com or 202-662-7071.



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