Gov. McDonnell, U.S. Reps Condemn Command Cuts in Virginia

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP

    Senior elected Democrats and Republicans in Virginia condemned a Pentagon decision Monday to cut the U.S. Joint Forces Command based in Norfolk.

    The decision, announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, jeopardizes about 5,000 military jobs in the Hampton Roads region and many times more for contractors and those in support industries throughout southeastern Virginia, an area thick with bases.

    Within 90 minutes, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, four congressmen -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- and two Hampton Roads mayors were denouncing Gates' decision at a news conference the governor hastily convened in Norfolk. McDonnell was there for an unrelated event.

    The command holds more than 1 million square feet of real estate in Suffolk, Va., and Norfolk, Va. It lists its mission as training troops from all services to work together for specific missions.

    Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim said in an Associated Press interview that the announcement is chilling for his city, home to the world's largest U.S. Navy base and the epicenter for the Joint Forces Command.

    The command has been a boon to Norfolk and outlying areas it made the region home 13 years ago.

    "One of the main reasons we've seen growth in our per capita incomes in Hampton Roads in the past few years is the new jobs -- good-paying jobs -- for people with advanced degrees and doctorates," Fraim said.

    They develop and maintain technology that allows accurate computer simulations of real-world problems as diverse as the effect of a precision missile strike on the street grid of any city and steps a medic in the field would take to treat specific shrapnel wounds for an injured soldier.

    "Not only are those 5,000 jobs, they're 5,000 really excellent jobs," he said.

    The loss, should Congress be unable to deter the Pentagon's plans, would hit Norfolk after cuts in state aid to Virginia cities and counties in the current budget, and a continued stagnation of local revenues from a depressed housing market and the local real estate taxes that comprise the bulk of city tax collections.

    Congressional Democrats and Republicans pledged to work together to reverse the decision.

    Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Mark R. Warner were not at the news conference but both issued statements blasting the decision.

    Webb, a former Navy secretary and one of the Vietnam War's most-decorated Marines, said balancing the budget by cutting "the command that is leading the charge for the future of our military doctrine and training would be a step backward and could be harmful to the capabilities of the finest military in the world."

    Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott was clearly frustrated at a decision that he said appeared to lack a sound rationale. The realistic computerized modeling and simulation that the command offers saves the military billions of dollars and averts untold bloodshed, he said.

    "As a member of the Budget Committee, I completely understand and appreciate (Gates') motivation to weed out wasteful spending at the Department of Defense," Scott said.

    "We called (the command) earlier today and we frankly did not get a coherent response or explanation of what would happen," Scott said.

    Republican Rep. J. Randy Forbes was livid at the decision, calling it "further evidence of this administration allowing its budget for social change to determine defense spending."

    "What we are witnessing is the piecemeal auctioning off of the greatest military the world has ever known," he said.

    McDonnell shared Forbes' sentiment, saying he sensed a fundamental reordering of priorities by the Obama administration.

    "When I see the federal mandates being put on Virginia by various federal legislation, when I see spending growing at $1.16 trillion a year, it appears to me that there are being cuts in defense made to fund other programs that are, in my view, much less important," McDonnell said.