Army defends plans to centralize National Guard centers

Officials anticipate the centers will be larger and more technologically advanced than existing reserve and Guard installations.

Members of the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission pressed senior Army officials Wednesday on what one member described as the "Field of Dreams" approach to consolidating reserve and National Guard personnel at Armed Forces Reserve Centers.

Samuel Skinner, a chief of staff for former President Bush, questioned the Army's plan to "build a world-class training center and hope that the Guard will come."

As part of the 2005 BRAC round, the Pentagon invited state adjutants general to submit recommendations for the locations of these new reserve centers being built on federal and National Guard land.

Craig College, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for infrastructure analysis, said the Army expects that these "centers of excellence" will be larger, unconstrained by encroaching development and technologically advanced over existing reserve and Guard installations.

Other commission members wondered if the plan to close 211 reserve and Guard facilities while building 125 centers, would hurt recruiting and retention because soldiers will have to commute greater distances. Army Secretary Francis Harvey acknowledged that the impact is a concern, particularly at a time when the service is struggling to meet recruitment and retention goals. Harvey and Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker emphasized that the plan is backed by many states, and that the consolidated centers would add no more than 50 miles to soldiers' commutes.

The bid to reshape the Army's domestic infrastructure is part of the Defense Department's recommendations released Friday to close or realign more than 800 military installations in the United States. The list includes roughly 400 Army installations, comprised in part of 176 Army Reserve and 387 Army National Guard facilities.

The Army portion of the base-closing recommendations was the topic of today's commission hearing. If the recommendations are implemented, the Army expects to save $7.6 billion over the next several years, followed by $1.5 billion in annual recurring savings over the next two decades. The cost of these closures is estimated at about $12 billion.

Harvey said that while the closing of overseas bases and the return of U.S. troops to domestic installations also will cost money -- roughly $800 million -- the combined effort will generate more than $20 billion in savings. The Army expects to return 47,000 troops, including 11,000 to Fort Bliss, Texas, as part of the global restructuring plan. BRAC commissioners have less than four months to evaluate the Pentagon's recommendations and submit its list to the White House by Sept. 8. The commission continues to await the department's release of thousands of pages of supporting documents detailing the rationale behind its base closure decisions. Members expect to see the documents Friday.