Taking the hit on base closings

March 06, 1995

The scramble is on to save five Maryland military facilities slated for closure in the Pentagon's fourth and latest round of base reductions.

Immediately after the Pentagon revealed that Maryland facilities were on its hit list, Gov. Parris Glendening and the state's congressional delegation vowed to fight to save them, arguing that these bases are "different" from the hundreds of other surplus installations around the country.

While the state cannot afford to ignore the possible loss of 1,000 civilian jobs, the truth is that until now, Maryland has been lucky. In the last round of base closings in 1993, the state actually gained 5,000 jobs.

Maryland has been spared the brunt of base closings because many of its facilities focus on high-technology research that is still valuable in post-Cold War defense strategies.

But that is not true in every case. The Pentagon wants to close Fort Ritchie in Western Maryland, because the communications services it provides can be performed at other facilities and the underground war bunker it maintains can be cared for by staff assigned to Fort Detrick in Frederick County.

The other Maryland facilities slated for closure -- the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Annapolis, the Army Publications Distribution Center in Middle River and the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda -- would be consolidated into other facilities.

Maryland's political leaders may be able to exert enough pressure to save one or two of the bases, but Maryland and the nation can no longer afford to ignore the realities: Defense spending has been cut by 40 percent since the end of the Cold War and the size of the U.S. military has been cut by a third, but U.S. military bases have been cut only 21 percent.

The state shouldn't despair over these proposed closings. Most of the facilities sit on prime real estate that could be easily converted to private-sector investments and provide private-sector jobs.

Instead of fighting the closing of obsolete bases, we would rather see the political leaders working to take advantage of the new opportunities and fashion an economic development strategy with military communities in mind.

Maryland can no longer count on living off the government dole. Peace has a price and Maryland will have to pay its share.

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