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Ohio sets defense for military bases

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A magnet promotes the Ohio Air National Guard s 180th Fighter Wing, one of several facilities Ohio offi cials are trying to preserve from military cuts. The 180th is at Toledo Express Airport.

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COLUMBUS - Predicting "the mother of all BRACs," advocates for Ohio's military bases argued yesterday that their facilities and products have been tested in battle and, if necessary, are ready to do battle again - this time with the Pentagon.

"The magnitude of [the newest Base Realignment and Closure process] is going to be equal to all previous rounds combined," said Joe Renaud, Ohio's aerospace and defense adviser.

Delegations from the Toledo, Lima, Dayton/Springfield, Columbus, Cleveland, Youngstown, and Mansfield areas who met in Columbus yesterday with Gov. Bob Taft and two congressmen were preaching to the choir.

The people they have to convince, those with the Pentagon and yet-to-be-named members of the latest BRAC commission, were not in the room.

With signs, hats, buttons, and car magnets, the event was more of a rally in anticipation of the release on May 16 of the Pentagon's recommendations for closing a quarter of the nation's 400 military installations. Congress ordered the process in 2001 to save more than $3 billion.

President Bush is expected to name the commissioners on Tuesday. They will have until Sept. 8 to submit recommendations to the White House.

The President cannot change the list, but he could return it to the commission with his own ideas. A final list of recommendations must reach Congress by Sept. 23.

This marks the fifth round of base closures.

Together, the state's bases and related facilities employ 38,000 and contribute $5.5 billion a year into the state's economy. The state not only is looking to protect jobs and facilities already here but wants to position itself for the slim possibility that it can gain jobs from base-closings in other states.

"It's very possible that one or more of our bases would gain some additional work, but it's very hard to predict that that would happen for the state as a whole," Mr. Taft said.

For the first time, the state has created a unified front against cuts. The new All-Ohio Task Force has awarded $2.5 million for local efforts.

"If we do get on the [Pentagon] list, we're going to concentrate on getting ourselves off the list, not pointing at somebody else," said Bob Decker, a retired fighter squadron commander and the task force representative for the Ohio Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing at Toledo Express Airport.

The Toledo delegation met for 20 minutes Tuesday with Philip Grone, a U.S. Department of Defense undersecretary, to make a pitch for the base and its 1,343 jobs. The group contends loss of the base would sap $70 million a year from the local economy.

The former Lima Army Tank Plant survived a recommendation to close in 1988, but since then the plant, owned by the Pentagon but operated by a Michigan defense contractor, has diversified its products.

The Lima delegation may be able to use Mr. Bush's own words to their advantage. A month after the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, he praised the plant's chief product.

"Our enemy learned that when Abrams tanks are on the battlefield, America means business," he said.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.

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