FORT LEONARD WOOD — Fort Leonard Wood is safe from closing in 2013 as the Pentagon has abandoned its push to close or relocate domestic bases in an attempt to save money.
A Fort Leonard Wood spokesperson confirmed Thursday that she was aware of a Kiplinger editorial that stated that Fort Leonard Wood was a possible closure in a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in order to cut federal spending in the defense budget, fort officials had not received any word from the fort's higher headquarters that would affect the fort in south central Missouri.
“We haven't received any word of any closure,” said Tiffany Wood, public affairs officer for Fort Leonard Wood. “We are continuing our mission as always,” she said, noting that the fort will continue to train both its military and civilian personnel.
Drew Pusateri, from U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill's office, also confirmed the base will not be closed after talking with individuals who deal with base-related issues in Washington, D.C. “It's not conceivable there will be a closure at this point,” he said.
Word of the Pentagon backing off its request for domestic base closures comes as good news to local Congressional members representing Missouri.
U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who represents Missouri's Eight District, said, “I'm very glad the Department of Defense has indicated it will not pursue plans for a Base Realignment and Closing process in 2013, but we must continue to be wary of any attempts to reduce the presence of valuable military installations in Missouri and throughout the nation.
“At any given point in time, we have to be prepared to make the strongest possible case for Fort Leonard Wood, and fortunately the military and non-military professionals who represent the post make that a very easy case to present,” she said.
The congresswoman said the fort is home to essential basic training programs, the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School, the U.S. Army Military Police School and a major presence of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Emerson called Fort Leonard Wood a vital part of the country's military preparedness and readiness. “It's a key post for Missouri and for the country, and the post has many crucial partnerships with surrounding communities and institutions, including Missouri S&T,” she said.
McCaskill, a member of the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee, and chair of the Subcommittee on Military Readiness and Management Support, which has jurisdiction over base closures, also agreed that the news of no base closures next year is good for Missouri.
“This is a win for Missouri's military families and communities — there were just too many questions surrounding the proposed base closures, and about the only thing certain was the job losses and harm to businesses that would have come from these decisions,” McCaskill stated in a press release.
The last round of BRAC took effect in 2005 and involved closing about 24 major installations and consolidating other service-specific bases into joint installations, but there are conflicting reports of how much money it actually saved.
McCaskill had previously argued that the Pentagon should take a thorough look at how much could be saved by closing military installations overseas, many of which she said are relics of the Cold War.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the plan to cut costs will likely focus on plans to draw down military installations overseas, with a majority being in Europe.
“Until we know exactly how much money has been saved in the past, how much money new closures would save and until we've taken a tough look at our thousands of installations overseas, I plan to keep standing up to protect our military communities from arbitrary closures,” she stated.
While McCaskill said she applauds the Department of Defense's desire to find responsible places to achieve savings, “there is one area where there is absolutely no room for compromise this year: BRAC,” McCaskill told military leaders earlier this year.
“I will not support the request for a BRAC process to be carried out in 2013. Government auditors have not yet completed a final analysis of the recently completed 2005 BRAC round. Congress needs a more complete understanding of our planned force structure, including our overseas force posture, before we even considering a new round of BRAC,” she stated.
In May, the U.S. senator successfully excluded language from the National Defense Authorization Act that would have authorized an additional round of BRAC. In doing so, McCaskill ensured that the Defense Department would not have the legal authority to attempt to pursue a round of base closures in 2013.
Had the Pentagon continued to push for base closures, Congress would have had to approve legislation to create a new base-closing commission, which would then carry out an independent review of military installations and make recommendations to Congress for closures. The recommendations would not be amendable and would be subject to a single up-or-down vote.
McCaskill stated that the upfront costs of base closures could be crippling at a time of constrained defense budgets. The base-closure model typically provides for significant upfront costs to move units from closing facilities, with the costs only recovered from savings realized well into the future.
In addition to Fort Leonard Wood, Whiteman Air Force Base and Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in Missouri are also safe from closure in 2013.
Panetta said earlier this week that while he would not push base closures in 2013, he called shutting down some excess military installations in the future inevitable.