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Base closings overseas may affect stateside actions
Scripps Howard News Service


May 01, 2005

The dozens of military facilities across the country soon to find themselves on the dreaded base-closing list aren't the only installations doomed to extinction.

The Pentagon also intends to close about 200 of its facilities overseas and bring home 70,000 troops from Germany and South Korea over the next decade.

But while the closing of domestic bases requires the approval of Congress, the Pentagon needs no such permission to shutter any of the approximately 860 installations in at least 45 other countries around the world.

Instead, it is a wholesale transfiguration of America's military that is spurring the overseas changes.

With the Soviet Union history, the tank- and artillery-heavy U.S. bases in Germany have become anachronisms. In Korea, the advent of long-range "smart" munitions means fewer U.S. soldiers are needed along the border with the North.

The sweeping shift won't get started until 2006, but it already is having an effect on the fate of bases back home. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the need to incorporate thousands of returning troops stateside means that fewer domestic bases will be shut.

"The fact that we're bringing so many forces home from overseas reduces that number," Rumsfeld told reporters last month.

For now, few specifics have been publicly discussed about which troops will go where. Texas GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and other critics seized on the lack of details to call for the upcoming round of closings - the first in about a decade - to be postponed until the distribution of the returning personnel is clear.

But base-closing analysts say Rumsfeld and other defense leaders have taken the returning waves of troops into consideration as they have cobbled together the "hit list" of doomed domestic bases set to be released by May 16.

"They said they had accounted for the potential (moves)," said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Taibl, policy director for the Business Executives for National Security, a nonprofit, Washington-based group that advocates closing unneeded bases.

Currently, more than 250,000 U.S. troops - not including the 140,000 in Iraq on what is called "temporary" combat duty - are stationed overseas. About 90,000 are in the Asia and Pacific regions, with most of the rest in Europe.

In all, the Defense Department owns 30,117 barracks, hospitals, hangars and other buildings overseas and leases another 16,000. The size of the individual facilities ranges from an acre or so devoted to a communication tower to sprawling, city-sized bases in Germany and South Korea.

The cost of shutting overseas bases and relocating 70,000 troops, along with 100,000 spouses, children and civilian workers, will be about $12 billion over 10 years, according to Pentagon calculations. The amount of annual taxpayer savings will depend on the disposition of base buildings, since the personnel costs will remain about the same for the relocated troops.

The realignment of America's overseas presence has been spurred by a host of factors: the enormous costs of maintaining overseas bases; the price of providing schooling and other services for families; shrinking amount of open space for training; growing complaints in some nations about the presence or behavior of U.S. troops; and the war on terror's shift of hot spots to the Middle East, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Equally radical is the transformation of the U.S. military into what Rumsfeld calls an "expeditionary" force that is leaner and quicker to deploy than the more ponderous Cold War force.

While specifics of Rumsfeld's vision of the 21st-century force await the completion of a comprehensive Pentagon review, it is certain that the old concept of big bases in "old Europe" will be scrapped. Instead, U.S. troops will rotate on relatively short tours in and out of skeleton facilities in such "new Europe" countries of Hungary and Poland, as well as in some of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and elsewhere.

These facilities would be stocked with stored tanks, trucks and other combat necessities, ready to be "married up" with U.S.-based troops airlifted in for maneuvers or deployment to war.

Equally fuzzy are specifics of where the 70,000 uprooted U.S. troops will go. Slated to come home in the next several years are two heavy Army divisions - the 1st Armored and 1st Infantry - that have made Germany their home for more than 30 years. Odds are good the preponderance of these 30,000 soldiers will be absorbed by Fort Riley in Kansas and Fort Hood in Texas.

Meanwhile, in a last-ditch effort to dodge the base-closing ax, bases around the country have been prettying themselves up with infrastructure and other improvements they hope might attract some of the remaining returning troops.


E-mail Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)

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