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Pennsylvania bracing for possible fight to protect military bases

State Sen. Richard Alloway and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster prepare to defend Letterkenny Army Depot

February 08, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • In this file photo, used parts are cleaned in the wash rack at Letterkenny Army Depot to determine if they can be reused.
Herald-Mail file photo

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — State and local leaders are bracing for another possible fight to protect military bases, including Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg.

The U.S. Department of Defensewill request that Congress appoint a commission to study the future of military bases around the country, possibly in 2013 and 2015, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan said Wednesday.

“We’re in the process of making those requests,” she said.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission would identify military installations to be closed or changed in size.

“We understand the need for the downsizing or right-sizing of our military operations, but we want to make sure our bases are treated fairly and based on their merits. We think we have a good story to tell,” state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York, said Wednesday.

Alloway is co-chairman of the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s newly formed Military Installations and Base Development Caucus. Fifty-five legislators already involved hope to protect the state’s 11 military bases and 164,000 defense-related jobs.

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Letterkenny Army Depot employs 2,908 people through its government, contracted and military operations. Tenants on the depot’s 18,668 acres employ another 1,175 people.

The depot has won seven Shingo medallions for excellence in manufacturing and business practices.

BRAC Commission decisions in 1991, 1993 and 1995 hit Letterkenny hard, resulting in the loss of about 4,000 jobs. It was promised new jobs when spared in 2005.

In remarks made Jan. 26, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said government “cannot sustain the infrastructure that is beyond our needs or ability to maintain” because of budget constraints.

“Therefore, the president will request the Congress to authorize ... use of the base realignment and closure process — so-called BRAC process — with the goal of identifying additional savings and implementing them as soon as possible,” he said.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said there is no guarantee Congress will decide to proceed with BRAC.

“There are a lot of variables out there,” Jeff Urbanchuk said.

“All the indications coming out of the House and Senate, and both sides of the aisle, is there is little to no support for another round of BRAC,” said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

Ross is part of Team Letterkenny, an organization that meets quarterly regarding projects that support the depot.

The BRAC process requires up-front costs; its projected savings are not always realized, Ross said.

Lawmakers might not launch BRAC during an election year because the process creates anxiety in districts with military installations, he said.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told reporters Jan. 27 the last BRAC process resulted in a “fairly significant consolidation” within the Army. Odierno said he believes future BRAC “would not have as much impact on the Army because we’ve pretty much done what we want to.”

Urbanchuk said the last BRAC process in 2005 taught Letterkenny Army Depot supporters how to prove the depot’s work is critical to warfighters.

“They’re practically running out of room for all the Shingo awards they get,” Urbanchuk said. “They’ve proven time and time again they are a center of excellence.”

Shuster made a presentation to the BRAC Commission on Letterkenny’s behalf in 2005, according to published reports.

Letterkenny officials say their production demand should be consistent through September 2013, Ross said.

“Beyond that, it becomes less certain what the workload will be, but that’s not necessarily uncommon,” he said.

BRAC also could affect places such as the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., and the Naval support facility in Mechanicsburg, Pa., Alloway said.

The state senator said BRAC gets politicized, and he worries military installations are not judged on their merits.

“I think the job Letterkenny has done speaks volumes to the work force, but that might not matter in some cases,” Alloway said.

The Military Installations and Base Development Caucus sent Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett a letter Wednesday asking for his support in its efforts to keep military installations viable.

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