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Alaskans Fight to Save a Base on the Block

With Eielson Air Force Base set for reductions, thousands voice opposition at a hearing.

June 16, 2005|From Associated Press

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Commissioners who will help decide what military bases should be closed to save money heard anger and outrage Wednesday as they began listening to public comment here on a list of recommended closings that includes gutting nearby Eielson Air Force Base.

The Pentagon recommendations would turn Eielson into a training facility for other bases around the country. The realignment would mean the loss of 2,800 airmen -- nearly the entire active military contingent -- and their 3,300 dependents. About 8.6% of all jobs in the Fairbanks North Star Borough would be lost.

So when the four members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission opened the nation's first regional hearing on the recommendations, they faced more than 3,000 residents, most wearing red T-shirts handed out by the local Save Eielson Committee. Residents began lining up two hours before the meeting to secure a seat.

Susan Kalen, owner of Chena Surveys, a surveying company with 15 employees that does extensive work at Eielson and nearby Ft. Wainwright, wore a white construction hat and was first in line.

"I'm here to save Eielson," she said. "Closing down Eielson doesn't make sense."

Auto dealers Lane Nichols and Greg Wagner closed down their business and sent more than 80 employees in vans to attend the hearing.

"It's that important," Nichols said. "We need to make a statement to the [base closing commission.] It's pretty crucial to our community."

The Defense Department's recommendations overall are supposed to save $49 billion over 20 years. They include closing 33 bases and substantial reductions at 29 more.

The commission must create its own list of recommendations and give them to President Bush by Sept. 8. Bush then has two weeks to accept the list, ask the commission for revisions or reject it.

If he accepts the commission recommendations, Congress would have 45 legislative days to accept or reject them, without revision.

Alaskans insisted that there must have been some mistake.

The proposal would provide only 18 fighter aircraft to defend the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a new ground missile-defense bed and the entire state of Alaska, 20% of the nation's land base, said Sen. Ted Stevens, (R-Alaska).

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