Originally created 03/16/04

General is optimistic about base



AIKEN - Fort Gordon provides vital communications training to all branches of the U.S. military while linking combat troops in Iraq with the rest of the world, Brig. Gen. Gregory Premo, deputy commandant of the fort's U.S. Army Signal School, said Monday.

In a speech to the Aiken Rotary Club, Brig. Gen. Premo said the Army post, one of the area's largest employers, has a mix of crucial communications, medical and manpower missions that should help it survive the next round of base closings in 2005.

He also sounded a warning.

"All generals are not consulted about the inner workings of the Department of Defense," he said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that (the next round of base closings) could have an impact here."

That isn't necessarily bad news, he said. Surviving bases will probably pick up missions from those that get chopped.

"At the end of all that process, some communities are going to see a loss while others stand a chance of picking up something new," he said.

"As one door closes, another door opens."

Fort Gordon, with about 20,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, contractors and civilian support staff, has a bigger payroll than the Savannah River Site, which employs about 13,000.

The base has a $1.2 billion economic impact, said Brig. Gen. Premo, and, when military retirees are included, it touches the lives of about 64,000 people. New construction at the base last year totaled $58 million, he said.

Fort Gordon has several advantages in the base-closing contest, Brig. Gen. Premo said. These include the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, home of the Army's Southeast Regional Medical Center; the service's largest information technology training center, which handles 20,000 candidates a year from all branches of the American military in addition to officers from 77 countries; and a command battle lab that specializes in advanced computer modeling for war games and communications innovations for combat units.

Joint-service training is a plus in the war against terrorism, said Brig. Gen. Premo, because the military is moving toward smaller, more mobile combat forces.

The Army also is undergoing a massive restructuring, moving from a fighting force based on divisions to one based on self-sufficient brigades.

Reach Jim Nesbitt at (803) 648-1395 or jim.nesbitt@augustachronicle.com.