March 20, 2012 10:16:06 AM
JACKSON -- Gov. Phil Bryant is receiving praise for his decision to revive a Mississippi council to battle potential military base closings. Now it's time to wait and plan. Wait to see what the Defense Department comes up with. Plan to energize communities and local officials for the fight.
Military bases have proved vital to local economies across Mississippi. The same can be argued in other states.
Mississippi is home to four federal military bases, two Army National Guard installations, three Air National Guard units and 85 National Guard Readiness Centers. Military operations in the state create thousands of direct and indirect jobs and are estimated to generate more than $2.5 billion in annual economic impact.
"The reformation of the commission is very important to all of Mississippi. There is the possibility of another base closing round, and it is critical to prepare in advance. In the past, Mississippi has fielded a superb team which has made the case that the military facilities in our state are not only vital for the affected communities, but essential for the national defense," said state Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, whose area has experience with base closure rounds.
"I applaud the governor for having the foresight to recognize the challenge and for putting in place a team to address it," Snowden said.
Snowden said with no Mississippi military installation safe, there is "no military community which can afford to relax its efforts to support their respective bases."
President Obama wants Congress to bring back the Base Realignment and Closure Commission as part of a budget-cutting effort. The administration has conceded there is little chance Congress would agree to it in a presidential election year.
The last BRAC round was in 2005.
The term "closure" is not entirely accurate for what the government would do. It may be that bases gain new missions or there will be an expansion of facilities. In Mississippi, Naval Air Station Meridian is the only base to have been listed during three different base closure rounds and still remain open.
Community leaders and others officials are concerned that base closing could be another blow in areas where a weak economy and unemployment have taken a toll.
In the 2005 round, the Mississippi Ammunition Plant was closed as was Naval Station Pascagoula and the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Vicksburg. Various programs were realigned at Keesler Air Force Base on the Gulf Coast and Key Field Air Guard Station and Naval Station Meridian, both in Meridian. Those actions affected more than 1,000 military personnel and 429 civilian employees.
Bryant said the Mississippi Military Communities Council "will help me not only defend our existing military missions and communities but also help identify mission growth opportunities for Mississippi."
Bill Freeman, the former adjutant general of Mississippi National Guard, is chairman. Jim McIngvale, with Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, as vice chairman; and retired Col. Nick Ardillo, who worked on the council in the 1990s, as member-at-large.
Ardillo said the council is taking on a great responsibility "in reporting to the governor and keeping up with the state's nine bases and 30,000 employees" and help them prepare for a possible new round of BRAC.
Mississippi's federal military bases are Columbus Air Force Base, Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Naval Station Meridian and the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport
Army National Guard installations are Camp McCain at Duck Hill and Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg. Air National Guard bases are the Trent Lott Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, 172nd Airlift Wing at Thompson Field in Flowood and the 186th Air Refueling Wing at Key Field in Meridian.