I thought this was an excellent Guest Opinion that appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times last Tuesday. It was written by Jack Thomas Tomarchio, a partner at Hill Solutions, LLC, a government affairs firm. He is also an adjunct faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania.
Now that the Department of Defense has released its list of military installations slated for closure, the ultimate decision rests with the independent BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission). This summer it will visit targeted bases to determine whether the projected closures are in the best interests of the nation. A list will be presented to President Bush in September 8th, which will contain the final recommendations of the commission. Congress must approve the list by November 7th.By the way, the link to the "Save Willow Grove Air Force Base" effort appears under "Give Or Get Help" on this site.
BRAC has recommended closing 10 bases in Pennsylvania, including the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Willow Grove. Should Willow Grove not survive the BRAC, the cost could be the loss of more than 1,300 civilian and military jobs to the region.
The base is presently the home of two P-3 squadrons. The base also houses Army, Marine, Air Force, and Coast Guard reserve units. In fact, this joint services configuration led the Defense Department to rename Willow Grove from Willow Grove Naval Air Station to Naval Station, Joint Reserve Base, Willow Grove.
The BRAC report seeks to close bases that do not cleave to the doctrine of “jointness.” Jointness arose in the mid-1980s because of failures encountered during the 1983 Grenada invasion and the botched U.S. Embassy hostage rescue attempt in Iran in 1980. A problem in both of these operations was that the services had a difficult time operating jointly. Congress, fed up, passed the Goldwater-Nichols act in 1988, which mandated that the services become better at operating as a joint force.
With BRAC 2005, the Defense Department seeks to further jointness by combining different services on fewer bases. What is surprising about the decision to BRAC Willow Grove is that the base stands out as a beacon of jointness. By all standards, Willow Grove is fulfilling the mission envisioned by Goldwater-Nichols as a vital joint military base.
Willow Grove serves another more immediate mission in the War on Terrorism. Unlike the previous BRACs, this BRAC is the first of the post-9/11 era. Since 9/11, the military has taken on a new Homeland Defense mission. In making its recommendations for the base closure and realignment, the Defense Department did not account for the new homeland defense mission imposed upon our military. Willow Grove is poised to play an important role in this new mission.
Willow Grove-based aircraft are close to every port on the Eastern seaboard and are ideally designed to conduct port security missions. Situated some 20 miles in either direction from Philadelphia and the nuclear reactor in Limerick, Pa., Willow Grove is the perfect marshalling area for first responders in the event of a terrorist strike against either target. Its location, within 30 minutes of more than 20 hospitals, makes Willow Grove a vital link in Southeastern Pennsylvania’s emergency network. Should Philadelphia International Airport be closed by an emergency, Willow Grove has the runway capacity to handle even the biggest aircraft.
Not only would closure of Willow Grove deprive the Defense Department of an important staging platform in the DOD’s Homeland Security mission, but Willow Grove’s elimination would place a burden on hundreds of reservists who currently train at the base. In an era where the Guard and Reserve have been asked to shoulder even greater burdens, closing this base and forcing our citizen-soldiers to travel farther from their homes to drill will put a heavy strain upon them.
The time is now for a public/private partnership between our elected officials and the business community to save Willow Grove. Rallies and speeches are not enough. What’s needed is a focused effort to advance the national security, homeland defense and community impact arguments why this base should not be eliminated.
Area legislators are saying the right things by pointing out Willow Grove’s importance to the war on terror and homeland security. Their voices need to be joined by those of local government, the business community and citizen groups. Willow Grove has stood by us for more than 50 years. It’s now time for us to repay that debt.