Supporters of Moody Air Force Base might welcome a recent move by Congress to delay the military base closings scheduled for next year, but U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, will tell you why they should not.
Although Kingston voted for a defense bill Thursday that calls for a two-year delay in base closings, the congressman expects the extension to drop out of the bill once it goes to a conference committee.
President Bush also has threatened to veto any bill that "weakens, delays or repeals" the base closing authority, according to a recent Associated Press story.
Kingston believes a delay in BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) simply postpones the inevitable and gives other bases a chance to improve their positions.
"I believe Georgia bases are in very good shape, both in the bases themselves and with our political and military relations with the Pentagon right now," Kingston said Friday. Moody, for example, has expanded to multiple missions compared to a decade ago, he pointed out. That makes it more likely to survive a round of closings.
"Why give 49 other states the change to catch up to Georgia?" he asked. "We're not going to be in better position two years from now than we are now."
Kingston also says the military should run the military. Congress has a vital role in relationship to the military, but has many other issues to consider, including education, health care, etc.
"We need to let the Pentagon run the Pentagon," he said. "We set up BRAC as an outside third-party mechanism to come up with the difficult decisions about which bases should be realigned and which to close, and we need to honor that system."
The congressman also opposes a delay because Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, other Pentagon leaders and the president are against waiting. Kingston suggests it would not be a good idea to anger those people who will be making decisions about the base closings.
"We go out and we start grandstanding because it's an election year, and it's not going to help us down the road as BRAC proceeds," he said.
Here are the positive parts of the defense bill passed last week, according to Kingston:
3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for members of the armed forces;
An increase in the maximum amount of hardship duty pay from $300 to $750 per month; up to $3,000 per month in income replacement payments for reservists who experience a reduction in their income while away from their civilian jobs;
$9.9 billion for troop and family housing, medical facilities, and schools for Department of Defense dependents.
It removes a penalty on survivors of military retirees. Current law requires a reduction in pay benefits to widows/widowers of military retirees -- from 55 percent of retiree pay to 35 percent when the survivor turns 62 and is eligible for Social Security benefits. This legislation eliminates the penalty for 2 million survivors by gradually increasing the annuity amount back to the full 55 percent.
$829.6 million for production of Up-Armored Humvees, which provide improved protection for soldiers from certain munitions and homemade explosives;
$191.8 million for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which transports troops to the battlefield, provides fire cover to dismounted troops, and suppresses enemy tanks and vehicles;
More than $400 million for Interceptor Body Armor, including funding for add-on protection
for the shoulder and side body areas.
Ron Wayne is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at 244-3400, ext. 229.
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