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Base Cutting Plan's Long Shadow

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is proposing to close and shrink hundreds of bases to create a leaner, more cost-effective force. If accepted, the plan would alter the domestic military landscape and greatly affect the four services branches and communities that are home to the installations.

Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are to testify Monday before a congressionally chartered commission that will review the base closing proposal before sending it to President Bush this fall.

The plan recommends closing or reducing forces at 62 major bases and reconfiguring 775 others to save billions of dollars a year.

Here is a look at how the specter of the closings is affecting nine communities across the nation:


In Washington, D.C., the venerable Walter Reed army hospital is slated to be closed, reports CBS News Correspondent Joie Chen. The first stop on home turf for the most battered survivors of war, it has treated thousands of soldiers wounded in Iraq. Private Jessica Lynch came here to recuperate. So did "B-D"-- the Doonesbury character who lost his leg to a grenade in Iraq.

Walter Reed has been the nation's premier military hospital for 96 years.

Heroes like General John Pershing and future president General Dwight Eisenhower were patients.

Closing Walter Reed would be a huge symbolic loss for Washington, and would slash nearly 6,000 local jobs.

The Pentagon plans to consolidate the hospital with another in nearby Maryland to create the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Many former staff members support the move, because the cutting-edge new facility would replace the current cramped corner.

Local leaders have vowed to fight the move, but the district is handicapped because it does not have statehood or a senator to lead the fight in Congress.

In Groton, Conn., real estate agent Nancy Warburton wasn't thinking about billions of dollars in lost military spending following the Pentagon's announcement that it plans to close the Naval Submarine Base. She had just one figure in mind:

Two.

That's the number of clients who said they were putting off buying homes.

"They said they wanted to wait and see what would happen," Warburton said. "Do you think I want to call them this afternoon and see if they want to go look at houses?"

If those two people don't buy a home, that's two fewer trips to the furniture store, two new lawn mowers or televisions that don't get purchased and two fewer commissions for Warburton, who in turn has less money to spend.

Economists call it the multiplier effect.

Retired 20-year Navy veteran Ed Putnam and others said they worried about how the town would respond to the loss. Putnam, who works on the base, has seen this submarine town weather a slow, steady reduction in the size of the fleet.

"We survived," he said. "I don't know how we're going to survive now."

But in a town that has overcome previous efforts to close the base, people know that first decisions in Washington are not always final.


"I'm telling everybody not to panic," Warburton said. "It's not over 'til it's over."

In Mansfield, Ohio, Cheryl Zellner serves up plenty of homemade chicken and noodles to members of the 179th Airlift Wing at her carryout store, Thunder Road.

She's worried about what will happen to her business and the community if the Pentagon follows through on its plan to close the city's Air National Guard base.

"Mansfield is depressed as it is," said Zellner, who decided to go into business for herself after losing her job at Sprint. "We need everything we can keep here, especially the Guard."

The Pentagon's proposal will add 241 jobs in Ohio, but that news didn't boost the spirits of those in Mansfield and Cleveland, which stand to lose about 1,000 jobs each.

For Mansfield, the announcement came less than two months after the state decided to move death row from Mansfield to Youngstown.

"It's like one thing after another," Mansfield Mayor Lydia Reid said at the base, its gray, hulking C-130 cargo planes parked in the distance. "We work so hard to get economic development here."

The base is the seventh largest employer in Richland County, which already has 7.4 percent unemployment — higher than the state average of 6.7 percent.

"Bush carried Richland County. That should mean something," Reid said.

In Colorado Springs, Colo., the rows of military uniforms at Mimi Oh's dry cleaning store stretch back as far as you can see.

"We do 95 percent of our business with Fort Carson," Oh said of her shop a mile from the Army post's south gate. "Without them we wouldn't have a business."

Fort Carson was among the bases getting good news Friday: The Pentagon's plan to shut down and overhaul bases across the nation will actually add thousands of troops and civilian jobs to the Colorado Springs area.

The Pentagon estimated that Colorado Springs would gain nearly 8,700 military and civilian jobs as a result of the changes. Jeff Crank, vice president of the Greater Colorado Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, said the plan means $200 million to $300 million for the area.

"Colorado Springs is dependent in many ways on the military. It would have a devastating effect if any of the bases closed," said Sharon Ruble, the manager of Circle Drive Self Storage who estimated 25 percent of her business is military.

Ruble and others say they suffer when soldiers leave for Afghanistan or Iraq.


"It's incredible. We feel it the second they leave town on deployments — our profits go down," said Linda Byers, a marketing manager for Domino's Pizza. "We have lost a lot of our high-tech community. The military makes up for a lot of that."

In Tooele, Utah, news that Deseret Chemical Depot was on the list of military closure recommendations was no surprise. But here, that news was greeted happily.

The depot has been on track to be closed once its stockpile of hazardous chemicals is completely destroyed, but just when the closure will be completed remains a mystery.

"This is good news," said Col. Raymond Van Pelt, commander of the depot where chemical weapons have been incinerated since 1942.

Closing the base means the chemical weapons will be gone, meeting an international mandate. But when the final stage of the closure — the decontamination and cleanup of the nearly 20,000 acre facility — gets under way was still unclear.

The depot's only purpose is to dispose of chemical munitions including deadly sarin, VX and mustard chemical agents once used by the military. It is one of eight such facilities around the country and one of three recommended for closure.

In Kittery, Maine, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard supporters are preparing to do what they've done before: roll up their sleeves to get ready for the battle of removing the base from the list of those to be closed.

With help from a powerful congressional delegation, they saved the submarine repair yard after it was placed on the list in 1993 and again in 1995. But things are different this time.

Under President Reagan, the Navy boasted a submarine fleet of 100 vessels. That is projected to drop in half.

"We're headed for a submarine fleet of no more than 50," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. "The handwriting is on the wall."

And circumstances have changed in the 12 years since Portsmouth was last placed on the list of proposed base closures. For example, the threats have become more diffuse, unlike during the Cold War when military efforts were oriented predominantly toward one part of the world.

"There's no question that the threat is coming from someplace other than Russia and Europe," said the Lexington Institute's Thompson.

In Houston, Texas, the base from which President Bush flew jets as a National Guardsman during the Vietnam War will lose all of its F-16s under the Pentagon's plan.

The proposal recommends retiring 15 F-16s belonging to the 147th Air National Guard at Ellington Field and closing its Army National Guard Reserve Center. But Ellington Field avoided the closings list.

"The good news is that Ellington Field will remain open," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. "The discouraging news is they are recommending to take the F-16s and move them somewhere else. We don't think that makes a lot of sense."

DeLay's and Bush's home state could gain more than 9,000 military jobs even while losing four major installations and several smaller ones.


DeLay said he will push to keep the 147th at Ellington Field with new airplanes. He has touted Ellington Field as critical to homeland security because of its proximity to the Houston Ship Channel and NASA's Johnson Space Center.

In Albuquerque, N.M., the mayor celebrated with a hearty breakfast of spicy posole, cookies and coffee — happy that Kirtland Air Force Base, and his city's economy, were spared the Pentagon's budget ax.

A couple of hundred miles east in Clovis, Mayor David Lansford skipped breakfast, his appetite dimmed and heart weighed down by word that nearby Cannon Air Force Base, and its nearly 3,000 jobs, were on the chopping block.

"We're talking about our friends and family being taken away from us. That information just sits heavy on the heart. I don't think we can accept it," Lansford said.

Cannon and Ellsworth in South Dakota were the only two Air Force bases nationwide slated to close.

Hanson Scott, a retired Air Force general who is New Mexico's one-man Office of Military Base Planning and Support, said the state and congressional delegation will do everything possible to save Cannon.

But, he warned, "I think any fight is going to be a tough fight."

Cannon's closure would cost 2,385 military jobs and 384 civilian jobs, according to the Pentagon.

But the Pentagon didn't count the job loss from surrounding communities.

"It'll kill Clovis," said Linda Hanks, manager of Dairy Queen in Clovis. "We don't have any industry here. We rely on the base. Probably 75 percent of our business comes from the base. That's not only us — it's every business in town."

In New Orleans, the century-old Navy base serves as an anchor for Algiers, a neighborhood that surrounds it.

Many of the homes around the base were built to serve military personnel. Main thoroughfares are named after generals. The base's marching band is a yearly feature of the Carnival parade.

"It's sad to see it go," said Victoria Davis, the shop manager of the Akeem Food Store in Algiers, a neighborhood that surrounds the Naval Support Activity center, among the bases slated for closure by the Pentagon.

In the mornings, Davis likes to hear the base's loudspeakers blare bugles and play the national anthem to get the day going.

"When I walk to work, I look over at the base and I feel safe and proud," Davis said.

The Pentagon's realignment plan could cost Louisiana more than 1,200 jobs and millions of dollars in payroll. The prospect of losing the hustle and bustle of the base did not sit well with many business owners and residents.

"It's not much over here and this serves as one of the big things we have," said Shareefah Mason, the director of the Clear Head Learning Center, a daycare center near the base.

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