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No major Oklahoma bases on closure list

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A Pentagon review released Friday spared Oklahoma's military bases from the threat of closure and recommended they grow by 4,000 jobs, elating residents and business owners near the installations.

Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Altus Air Force Base, Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Fort Sill in Lawton, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant and Air National Guard facilities in Oklahoma City and Tulsa were all part of the review, which recommended closure of dozens of other bases across the country.

Some of the Oklahoma facilities would gain responsibilities under the Pentagon plans, including a 3,600-person increase in military and civilian personnel at Fort Sill. Tinker would see an increase of 400 people and Vance would see an increase of 100.

Some smaller Oklahoma facilities were marked for closure, including reserve centers in Muskogee, Tishomingo, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. About 200 people work at these centers. A reserve center in Broken Arrow was to be closed, and a new one opened, for a net gain of six jobs.

``It could not have been better news for us,'' Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said. ``We didn't expect all of this stuff that's coming to Fort Sill.''

He said Oklahoma's strong community support for its military bases was a key factor in keeping state facilities off the list. Local communities have worked extensively with the bases to support their operations.

The five bases contribute $4.8 billion to Oklahoma's economy and provide more than 55,000 military and civilian jobs.

``This is great news for Oklahoma, particularly for the base communities that have worked so hard to support their respective installations,'' Gov. Brad Henry said. ``The state's military bases are critical players in the Oklahoma economy, contributing to thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the state. Without question, today's announcement is big economic news for Oklahoma.

``Despite today's positive news for Oklahoma, we must remain vigilant to guard against our bases getting ensnared in the remaining phases of the BRAC closure process. Our military bases are vital to our national security interests, but they are also critical to our state's economic well-being. We cannot, and will not, take anything for granted.''

Some state officials had been concerned that Vance and Altus could face the most competition because they are small and their training missions could be folded into other bases. But both bases also offer uncluttered air space and room for expansion, which made them attractive, compared to installations in more populated areas.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., whose district includes Altus and Vance, was euphoric.

``Hallelujah! The residents of Enid and Altus have gone through a tremendous amount of anxiety over the fate of their communities, and I'm ecstatic to learn that Secretary Rumsfeld agrees with me, that these two bases are fulfilling the military's mission efficiently and effectively, and should remain open.''

Extensive pilot training is done at Altus and Vance. Military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have moved thousands of troops through Fort Sill and kept the McAlester plant working around the clock.

Business owners near military bases were delighted.

``We're tickled plum to death,'' said Scot Simco, who owns Val's Restaurant and Bar on Altus' main street. ``We're ecstatic, not just for us, but for our community as a whole. We're very, very fortunate.''

The anxiety and tension that had gripped Enid residents in recent weeks evapored with the announcement that Vance wasn't on the closure list, and would even gain jobs.

``If we had not had it, Enid would have been a gas stop,'' said Bell Jewelers owner Bob Clemens, who counts on young military couples for business. ``We are tickled pink they are staying.''

Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., whose district includes McAlester, said the ammunition plant's preparedness was crucial in the Pentagon's decision to keep it operating.

``I just think at the end of the day the Pentagon realized how important it is,'' Boren said. ``To be able to get weapons in a short time frame really played into this decision.''

Boren said the plant has 6 million square foot of storage capacity and encompasses 45,000 acres in southeastern Oklahoma.

``There's lots of room to grow,'' he said.

Tinker is where the Air Force's jet engine repair is done, and many of the planes in the Air Force fleet are maintained and rebuilt by workers at Tinker. With nearly 14,000 civilian employees and more than 10,000 military workers, only the state and Wal-Mart employ more people in Oklahoma.

The full Pentagon list proposes shutting 150 military installations from Maine to Hawaii, including 33 major bases.

More than 100 other smaller facilities would be closed, including scores of Reserve and National Guard installations. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the move would save $48.8 billion over 20 years while reshaping the military for America's expected 21st century adversaries.

The list will be reviewed by an independent commission, which can vote to add facilities to the list, but it takes seven of the nine members to do so. A simple majority vote would suffice to remove bases from the list.

The commission must forward its report of recommendations to the president who must accept or reject the recommendations in their entirety. If they are accepted, Congress has 45 legislative days or until the end of its 2005 session to reject the recommendations in their entirety or they become final.

If they are disapproved, the commission has until Oct. 20, 2005, to submit a revised report to the president. The president has until Nov. 7, 2005, to approve a revised report and send it to Congress.

The Pentagon then has six years to close, relocate or downsize bases on the final list.
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