Va. Delegation Questions Gates on Closing Command

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Robert Gates

    Closing the U.S. military's Joint Forces Command based in Virginia would cripple American combat capability, wreck the Hampton Roads economy and sidestep federal laws dictating base closure processes, six members of Virginia's congressional delegation said Friday.

    In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the two senators and four House members questioned the recommendation Gates made Monday as part of a Pentagon budget-cutting effort.

    Should President Barack Obama accept Gates' recommendations, 5,000 military jobs in the Hampton Roads region would vanish along with many times more for contractors and those in support industries throughout southeastern Virginia, an area thick with military bases.

    The command holds more than 1 million square feet of real estate in the Virginia cities of Norfolk and Suffolk. It lists its mission as training troops from all services to work together for specific missions. It also allows U.S. allies to coordinate combat operations and use sophisticated computers to accurately simulate outcomes on battlefields using a variety of combat troops, tactics and weapons.

    Sens. Jim Webb and Mark R. Warner and Reps. Bobby Scott, Randy Forbes, Rob Wittman and Glenn Nye signed the 1,800-word letter.

    The letter is often blunt and accusatory, even though four of the signers are Democrats, as is Obama. Should the president concur with Gates, the Virginians wrote, it would cause "the future erosion of our military's joint warfighting capabilities, the dismissal of thousands of highly skilled civilian federal employees and defense contractors, and a significant adverse economic impact in the Hampton Roads region."

    There was no immediate reply to an Associated Press request for comment from Gates' press secretary Friday.

    When asked Monday about opposition from Virginia's congressional delegation, however, Gates said that if his cuts to the Joint Forces Command allow him to "add a billion or two billion dollars to the Navy's shipbuilding program of record, Virginia may well come out with a lot more jobs than it loses."

    Seemingly exasperated at times, the senators and representatives wrote that they were "deeply troubled" that Gates didn't consult with Congress before making the recommendations, bypassed the Base Closure and Realignment, or BRAC, process and relied on a board packed with corporate figures, few of them with military experience, much less time spent in combat.

    "BRAC was crafted to avoid political interference and to ensure that decisions are made only after complete and impartial reviews of impacts, costs, savings, and alternatives," they wrote.

    A BRAC review of the Joint Forces Command five years ago validated its mission and its benefits to the ability to coordinate different branches of the U.S. military as well as allied forces in war.

    And a Defense Department panel's review also endorsed a permanent role for the command by recommending that it purchase space it was leasing, leading to the opening in October of a 49,000-square-foot operations center it shares with the Navy's Fleet Forces Command.

    Instead, the letter said, Gates relied more on people in business suits than those who had served the country in uniform to make decisions affecting American troops in harm's way.

    "We are also troubled that your recommendation appears to rely upon the findings of a recent Defense Business Board report," the letter said. The board made its decision without ever visiting the command, the letter contends.

    All 24 board members have "long, distinguished careers in the corporate world, including defense industries," the Virginians wrote. "Only a handful has actually served in uniform and, with the exception of one member, their military service occurred early in their lives. No board member has commanded forces in combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan -- where the imperative for seamless joint operations has been demonstrated repeatedly."

    "Needless to say, it is deeply disturbing that you would apparently act on a recommendation that reflects superficial research and a lack of analytical rigor," the letter said.

    Dismissing the missive as home-team cheerleading won't be so easy. Webb is a former Navy secretary and one of the Vietnam War's most decorated Marines.

    On Monday, when Gov. Bob McDonnell joined Forbes, Nye, Scott, Wittman and Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim in denouncing the recommendation, Webb said in Washington that it "could be harmful to the capabilities of the finest military in the world."

    Forbes on Monday called it "the piecemeal auctioning off of the greatest military the world has ever known."