Originally created 05/14/05

State leaders vow to fight for bases facing closure



ATLANTA - Gov. Sonny Perdue and other state leaders vowed Friday that they would fight to save the four Georgia military installations the Pentagon has recommended closing.

But the governor and other top elected officials also noted that Georgia stands to be an overall gainer of jobs as the military shuffles various workers and missions.

A stern-faced Mr. Perdue said at a late-morning news conference that he is ready to make a case for keeping open each of the bases now facing elimination and for saving the 7,400 military and civilian jobs now in jeopardy.

"Needless to say, we are disappointed that any of our Georgia installations were on the list," said Mr. Perdue, surrounded by various Georgia congressmen. "We felt like all of (the installations) have contributed vitally to the national defense."

All of Georgia's 13 military installations have survived past rounds of base closures in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995.

Four ended up on the proposed shutdown list released Friday: the Naval Supply Corps School in Athens, Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Fort Gillem in Forest Park and the Atlanta Naval Air Station outside Marietta.

"We will be fighting for those folks and those jobs until the very end," Mr. Perdue said, signaling the start of a massive lobbying campaign that state leaders have been planning for years.

The biggest single loss of jobs would come to Fort McPherson, where more than 4,100 positions would be axed. The potential closing of other facilities would kill off nearly 1,500 jobs at the Naval Air Station, 1,100 jobs at Fort Gillem and 500 positions at the Naval Supply Corps School.

"Closing any one base in Georgia has never been an option we would be satisfied with," said U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who joined Mr. Perdue in Atlanta along with fellow Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. The three later went out to visit each base facing closure.

Overall, the state would see 7,413 military and civilian positions cut at the four bases recommended for closure, while the Pentagon has proposed adding 14,836 new positions at Georgia's other bases. Some of the new jobs actually would be positions cut at other bases and reassigned within the state to different bases.

The biggest winners on the Pentagon's list of proposals are Fort Benning, south of Columbus, where more than 9,000 jobs would be reassigned, and Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, near St. Marys, which would gain 3,245 employees.

The additional jobs would give Georgia the second largest net gain among all states, trailing only Maryland.

During a trip to Atlanta earlier this year, Mr. Chambliss told reporters he didn't expect Georgia to lose any of its installations.

On Friday, he noted that though he was disappointed to see four Georgia bases recommended for closure, he also saw good news in the high number of new jobs projected for the state.

"That tells us that the military folks think that our installations in Georgia are critically important," Mr. Chambliss said.

Other state leaders were quick to weigh in with their own thoughts Friday as news spread about the list.

"My heart goes out to the civilian and military personnel that are devastated by this news today," said Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor. "I am very disappointed by this decision because it seems to reflect a lack of support at a time when we need the military the most."

Reach Brian Basinger at (404) 681-1701 or brian.basinger@morris.com.