States to Pentagon planners: You're wrong

ATLANTA (AP)_Three Southern states slated to lose military jobs under a Pentagon plan blasted the Department of Defense Thursday in a last-ditch effort to save their bases and missions.

In the last public chance for officials to argue their cases before the Base Realignment and Closure commission, congressmen from Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee took issue with the Pentagon's recommendations.

The Department of Defense announced in May that four bases in Georgia, plus some missions in Alabama and an Air National Guard unit in Nashville, Tenn., should be closed or moved to save money.

The plan was "based on flawed cost estimates," argued Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss. A Tennessee congressman, Rep. Jim Cooper, called his state's cuts "a serious mistake."

And Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, said, "For the life of me, I don't understand" a recommendation to shave a mission from one of his bases, Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base.

Officials from all three states disputed the Pentagon's projected cost savings. Three federal commissioners who heard the testimony said afterward that the arguments put up by the three states were especially vigorous.

Several Alabama officials even said the Pentagon may have violated the law because they went about their evaluations the wrong way.

"They're going right for the jugular," commissioner Harold Gehman said after Alabama's presentation.

The commission's job is to review the Pentagon's recommendations, make changes if needed, and forward a final plan to the president by Sept. 8. Congress will have to approve the plan in November.

Georgia is slated to lose four bases - Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem near Atlanta, a Naval Air Station in Marietta and a Navy Supply Corps School in Athens.

Alabama's hits include losing the Operations and Sustainment Systems Group at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and the Birmingham Air National Guard.

Tennessee's only item on the closure list was the Nashville Air National Guard.

Under the plan, Georgia and Alabama would gain military jobs in other areas, but the states spent most of their energies Thursday battling to avoid any cuts at all. Many of Georgia's arguments were about the nation's busiest airport in Atlanta, near three of the installations slated for closure.

Georgia congressmen argued that the airport gives Atlanta a rich field of aviation workers - good for Reserve recruiting - and saved the military money because of easy travel. "They do not consider the value of being next to an airport with worldwide access," Chambliss said.

Alabama officials argued their installations are efficient, with a low-cost work force around them and neighbors who support the military. "The sound of military helicopters flying day and night is not bothersome," said Charles Nailen, a businessman from Dothan, Ala., arguing to preserve missions at Fort Rucker.

After the four-hour hearing, commissioners said they had to research the claims made by Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee before making a final decision.

"We can only use certified data, we can't use claims and stories," said Gehman, a retired Navy admiral. The commissioners planned to return Thursday afternoon to hear complaints from adjutant generals in several states on proposed cuts to Air National Guard units.

Associated Press