Where will military downsizing come?

Published 4:54pm Friday, February 28, 2014

We love the military in this area. There is a wealth of brave veterans who answered the call to serve, our neighbors, friends and family members.

Then there are the many members of the Air Force who, after being stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, decided they’d rather stay in the River Region and chose to retire here.

So obviously the plans for major budget cuts announced by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have not been well received. But is it time to shrink things a bit?

Hagel talked about the smallest force-size since before WWII, which sounds a bit ominous to those willing to admit there are still bad guys out there. But he was talking about personnel, as I understood it.

We’ve got one or two pieces of hardware we didn’t have in the 1930s. You know, like the remote-control planes that can drop flaming death on a terrorist while its pilot is sipping a Surge back here in the States.

Whether its the best strategy or not, things are winding down in the two initial theaters of the War on Terror. That means cuts are likely coming, as the party in power would rather trim around the edges of defense programs rather than putting popular social programs on the chopping block.

The River Region is almost certain to feel some of that pain.

Two major Air Force installations in one city, with major Army (Fort Rucker) and Naval installations, not to mention half of Huntsville, the city that NASA built.

I caught a talk in Dadeville last week by Col. Mark J. Ramsey, the vice-commander of the 42nd Air Base Wing – Maxwell Air Force Base’s second in command. For years, Montgomery was a two-base town. But in 1992, as another round of base closures seemed imminent, someone realized it was easier to defend one Air Force Base with an “annex” across town than to keep two full-scale bases in the Capital City. So Gunter was renamed as an underling to the more established Maxwell.

Now the Maxwell complex employs 43,629 people in direct or periphery roles in the River Region community. The economic impact is massive, estimated at around $1.2 billion, Ramsey said.

The Air Force is currently looking to cut about 23,000 active duty personnel this year, Ramsey said. Most of the local military infrastructure is safe. Maxwell is, essentially, the center of higher education for the nation’s fliers, with Air University at its core.

Ramsey said only Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C. attracts as many VIPs.

Military cuts are tough. Rarely does a politician care whether the job-creating military facility in his or her district makes strict strategic or tactical sense. It’s just about keeping the base.

I’ve read in various places that Navy bigwigs aren’t too fond of the new, rather odd looking Littoral Combat Ships. They don’t feel they serve the most pressing needs of 21st century war-fighting.

I’m no expert, but I tend to lean toward the experts – admirals and such – in these matters. But don’t tell Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has fought valiantly to protect the LCS ships.

Why? Because most of them are built at shipyards in Mobile. And it’s hard to blame Sen. Sessions for his stand since every other member of Congress, whether hawk or dove, is striking the same defensive pose for his or her own military base.

There are hard decisions coming. The problem is, I’m not confident the decisions will be made by those in the best position to make them.


David Goodwin writes a regular column for The Wetumpka Herald. Contact him at david.goodwin@alexcityoutlook.com.

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