By Jim Hook
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UPDATED: 11/23/2014 05:26:21 PM EST0 COMMENTS
CHAMBERSBURG >> Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s latest proposal for another round of base closings has not raised local eyebrows.
“In Washington only the administration seems to be talking about another round of BRAC,” said L. Michael Ross, chairman of Team Letterkenny. At a recent Association of Defense Communities conference, senators and representatives alike “made it clear they had no appetite for another round” of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, he said.
The fortunes of Letterkenny Army Depot and installations across the U.S. have risen and fallen with the independent commission’s decisions.
“Despite numerous efforts and almost 10 years since the last round, DOD has been unable to secure another round of base realignment and closure,” Hagel said on Nov. 15 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, in Simi Valley, California. “Today, DOD has 24 percent excess capacity in our basing and facilities — excess capacity that is costing us billions of dollars every year, money that could otherwise be invested in maintaining our military’s edge. We need Congress to help end this excess spending,”
A day later Hagel told reporters during a visit to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, “What we’re asking for, again, is for the Congress to authorize another base relocation closing commission to go in and take a hard look, an insightful, honest look, and evaluate where that excess capacity is.
Congress this year shot down Hagel’s bid for BRAC authorization in 2015.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, was among those who spoke up for local jobs. He represents Pennsylvania’s 9th district which includes Letterkenny, the largest employer in his district.
“As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have been fighting in Washington to make clear that the services Letterkenny offers are crucial to national security, and cannot be performed with the same degree of skill, efficiency and cost effectiveness anywhere else,” Shuster said. “I will continue to vocally oppose any measures that would make cuts to Letterkenny, and have already taken steps such as working to craft a National Defense Authorization Act that rejected the proposed BRAC round” in 2015.
Ross on Wednesday told the Franklin County Council of Governments not to worry about the immediate future of Letterkenny Army Depot.
“Right now Letterkenny is very stable with everything going on in the world,” Ross said.
Despite an outward confidence that Congress lacks the political will to close military bases to save money, local officials are proceeding as if a BRAC is possible.
The Franklin County Area Development Corp. has acquired a $50,000 state grant to assess Letterkenny’s impact on the regional economy, according to Ross, who is also president of FCADC. “It’s essential” that the community have the information in hand before a BRAC rather than reacting at the last minute, he said.
A 2003 study of Letterkenny’s economic impact was a cornerstone of the effort to unify local communities around the depot in the 2005 BRAC round. The base closure commission however considers factors other than local economic effects.
“The commission first and foremost looks at military value of an installation and how its mission complements the overall mission strategy,” Ross said.
“I have always said that the men and women working at Letterkenny are the best at their jobs in the nation, and I continue to hold that view today,” Shuster said. “As such, I intend to do everything possible to ensure that we are not only prepared to face the prospect of another round of BRAC, but adopt a proactive stance that makes clear the depot’s crucial role in outfitting our nation’s warfighters. I and members of my staff have worked closely with Franklin County community leaders, Letterkenny employees, and Letterkenny leadership, and we are continuing to develop a strategy to prevent cuts to the depot if BRAC were to move forward. “
Pennsylvania also has moved to strengthen Letterkenny and its 10 other military bases. Together they employ 164,000 people.
The Military Community Protection Commission was established in 2011 and codified earlier this year. State Sen. Rich Alloway, R-Chambersburg, helped found the commission.
“While there is always the threat that a potential BRAC could decrease the workload at Letterkenny, our community leaders and lawmakers are doing everything in their power to minimize the potential threat,” Alloway said. “I am personally committed to preserving our military installations in Pennsylvania, in particular, to Letterkenny. Continual investment in Letterkenny from both the federal and state governments will ensure its place as a premier military support installation and reduce the chance of any future BRAC.”
Alloway earlier this year secured a $656,320 to improve rail lines accessing the depot.
The Army in January broke ground on a $32 million project to destroy rocket motors more cleanly at Letterkenny Munitions Center.
Letterkenny and its tenant agencies and contractors employ more than 4,500 people, Ross said.
The installation north of Chambersburg repairs tactical missile systems and aircraft maintenance generators, produces mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, assembles tent cities and stores munitions. It has won nine Shingo medallions for manufacturing excellence.
“Letterkenny is essential to ensuring the continued military dominance of the United States,” Shuster said. “I am confident in the men and women of Letterkenny along with the entire community that is united in supporting them. Should BRAC be authorized I am certain we will be prepared just as we were in 2005 when cuts were proposed to protect Letterkenny from being affected.”
Jim Hook can be reached at 717-262-4759