Much to lose but much to gain
Another round of base closings and realignments is on the horizon, and for the
heavily militarized Gulf Coast there is a lot to lose - or potentially gain - from another
BRAC round....

David Tortorano
April 2017

With military bases and their annexes spread throughout the Gulf Coast I-10 region,
it’s no surprise there’s keen interest when talk turns to base realignments and
closings. The region has a lot of potential targets.

According to the Department of Defense Base Structure Report FY 2015, a summary
of the military’s real property inventory, there are 45 DoD properties between New
Orleans and Panama City, Fla. The large number includes bases and associated
annexes, and they have a combined replacement value of nearly $22 billion.

Of those properties, nine major bases - eight with aviation functions - are valued in
excess of $1 billion each. The most expensive is Eglin Air Force Base, with a
replacement value (PRV) of $4.9 billion. In fact, its value has continued to rise.

Eglin’s place at the top of the heap is no surprise. With some 700 square miles, it’s a
key Air Force’s research, development, test and evaluation center, home to aerial
weapons development. It also has a space radar installation, trains F-35 pilot and
maintainers and is home to Army Special Forces. It’s notable for its vast land ranges
and access to ranges in the Gulf of Mexico.

Eglin is nearly 450,000 acres and has 1,059 buildings with a total of nearly 10 million
square feet, by far more buildings than any other base in Florida or the rest of the
Gulf Coast I-10 region.

But the PRV of properties is only one part of the equation when it comes to value of
the military’s presence. For a local community, its value is also gauged through its
impact on the economy through jobs and the dollars spent locally through paychecks
and contracts.

In Okaloosa County alone, home of Eglin and Hurlburt Field, there are nearly 600
DoD contractors. Between 2000 and 2015, some $9.7 billion in DoD contracts were
awarded to contractors in the county, some for work here, some for work elsewhere
within DoD. That huge impact is why locals pay close attention anytime talk turns to
BRAC. There’s a lot to lose.

But for the military, there’s simply too much capacity nationwide. In February, top
brass from the Air Force and Army told Congress that another BRAC is needed to
reduce the excess and redirect monies towards improving  remaining bases. For the
Air Force, the redundant capacity is 25 percent of its holdings, according to
published reports. The military for some time now has been wanting another BRAC,
but Congress has resisted. Now that resistance may finally be ending.

The post-Cold War cost-cutting efforts have meant the closing of more than 350
military installations in five Base Realignment and Closure rounds in 1988, 1991,
1993, 1995 and 2005. For the Gulf Coast region, there have been some losses over
the years, as well as some gains.

But it’s the closure part of the process that gets the most attention. The 1993 BRAC
led to the closure of the Naval Aviation Depot in Pensacola, Fla., and Naval Station
Mobile, Ala.

The 2005 BRAC moved the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Lab from Pensacola
to Ohio, closed Naval Station Pascagoula, Miss., and the Naval Support Activity in the
Algiers area of New Orleans. Fort Rucker’s Aviation Technical Test Center was
moved to Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Ala.

But the wins are also notable. The site of the closed aviation depot in Pensacola
eventually became the Naval Technical Training Center, and as a result of the last
BRAC the 7th Special Forces Group moved from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Eglin in 2011.

That hasn’t escaped lawmakers.

“BRAC should be viewed as an opportunity to attract more missions,” said U.S. Rep.
Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., according to the Pensacola News Journal.

“We should not begin that process upon the announcement of a BRAC. We should
be working now on priorities to harden our mission in Northwest Florida.”

The same could be said for any of the other areas along the Gulf Coast with a heavy
reliance on the military as a key part of their economies. But in all cases, it will be the
value of the base to the military mission that will be key to the process.

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