Loading The Bases
Homeland Security demands that civilians give the military some room to operate.
Thursday, August 8, 2002
Photo by Randy Tuneel.
Photo: General Barry McCaffrey, former US drug czar, says the time of military budget cuts is over.
Shrinking defense budgets and the closure of military bases were hallmarks of the brief post-Cold War era. Now that a new war has begun, however bewildering and ill-defined it may be to the average citizen, the armed services are trying to carve out a little extra space for themselves to go along with the federal government''s renewed largesse.
They''re starting in California.
Last Thursday and Friday, about 100 community, business and military leaders from throughout the state convened at the DoubleTree in Monterey to discuss civilian "encroachment" on California military bases, and the broader issue of military needs in the era of Homeland Security.
The event was sponsored by the US Department of Defense (DoD) and the California Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency-a collaboration dubbed "Partnership for Preparedness." The goal of the organization is to "enhance DoD presence and the Defense Industry throughout California."
The confab had all the earmarks of a carefully designed public relations campaign. There were beefy binders, graphic charts, a slide presentation with a bombastic soundtrack that ran the gamut from Bruce Springsteen''s "Born in the U.S.A." to John Phillip Sousa, and much talk of collaboration and coalition-building with communities.
The buzzword of the day was "encroachment," which is what occurs when civilian concerns clash with the military''s capacity to operate. Troublesome examples of encroachment were brought up for discussion. At Camp Pendleton, in San Diego County, residents of a housing development on a bluff overlooking the base, with the aid of their congressman, put an end to nighttime artillery practice. On several bases, endangered species-forced onto bases'' plentiful open space by surrounding developments-thwart maneuvers because of environmental regulations.
The opening presentation laid out a course of action over the next seven months. The plan is for military consultants and local business leaders to work together at four pilot sites-Camp Pendleton and Naval Base Coronado (both near San Diego), Fort Irwin (near Barstow) and Beale Air Force Base (in Yuba County)-and find a way to change state and local policy to minimize encroachment. They''ll hold another summit in April to assess their progress.
The overall goal is a "statewide coalition of support for DoD presence and the defense industry."
The Preparedness consortium wielded a carrot and stick. According to the slide show, California stands to gain $54 billion in defense contracts between now and 2004. As the home to 61 active bases and some of the strictest regulatory codes in the country, California seems to be considered the holy grail of encroachment resolution.
"There are people who say that-because of California''s rules and regulations-if you can do it in California, it can be done anywhere," said Maj. General [Ret] William Jefferds, who advises Gov. Davis on military issues and heads the office of Military Base Retention and Reuse.
Joel Hirschhorn, a representative from the National Governors Association, which has a DoD-funded project on encroachment, stressed that encroachment is a land-use issue, not an environmental issue.
"We don''t deal with the environmental aspect," he said. "They should be separated."
Asked if a physical buffer zone around bases was the goal, he responded, "The basic goal is to not let development encroach upon military installations in a way that threatens the military installation."
It was Retired General Barry McCaffrey who provided context and a glimpse into the thought process of the military establishment.
The former US drug czar and Gulf War division commander, now an instructor at West Point, said in an interview that "some [bases] had to go" in the post-Cold War downsizing of the 1990s. But now, he says, it may be time to revamp-noting that the US now has the smallest military it''s had since 1939.
In a speech on Friday morning, McCaffrey stood before the assembly and elaborated on his concerns, laying out a series of disturbing scenarios and making a case for a strong Department of Homeland Security.
The National Guard and the Reserves, he said, whose job it is to protect the domestic front while other branches are engaged overseas, are not prepared for the job.
"With the Soviets'' nuclear capability," he said, "there was a low probability of occurrence and a high level of national disaster if anything happened. That conceptual structure is gone. Now we have a high probability of occurrence and low probability of national disaster. My question is, if 3,000 American people die in a chemical attack, do we have the decontamination and assessment technology? The answer is no."
Major General Paul Monroe of the California National Guard, agreed that because the Guard has been deemed a low priority in recent years, it is has left it ill-equipped to take on its new role in the Homeland Security plan.
"The soldiers go through basic training on modern equipment and then have to come back to the National Guard," he says. "We still have Vietnam-era artillery pieces. Both the Secretary of the Army and [Army Chief of Staff Eric] Shinseki talk about the Paladin [tank] being obsolete. We''re still trying to move up to the Paladin."
Underlying the entire conference was an imperative to self-preservation. The next round of base closures will hit in 2005, and any bases that are underutilized or too expensive will be threatened. Accordingly, McCaffrey exhorted base commanders to tighten their fiscal operations (mostly by cutting civilian payroll), build alliances with their surrounding communities, especially the press, and work at the state-not federal-level, where land-use policy gets made.
"Don''t let go of the land," he said. "We have to defend this country for the next 100-300 years. Warfare has not ended. We''ll be in combat in January against the Iraqis. Don''t give up the land. Get the Reserves on it, get the Guard on it. But keep the land."