OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A task force of state lawmakers, community leaders and former military personnel has begun meeting to try to prevent the closing of Oklahoma military bases.
The U.S. Senate has endorsed an initiative for a new round of base closings in 2003. Since 1988, 451 installations, including 97 major ones, have been ordered closed or realigned.
The task force, which met Wednesday, hopes to protect Oklahoma's military installations including Tinker, Altus and Vance Air Force bases, the Army's Fort Sill and the McAlester Ammunition Depot. The installations employ nearly 45,000 people and have an estimated $3.3 billion direct and indirect impact on Oklahoma's economy.
``I think everyone is concerned,'' said state Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus, a member of the committee. ``I don't think anyone is bulletproff right now.''
He said it is prudent to act as though the base closing initiative will continue to move forward through Congress.
``We have t0o assume it's going to happen,'' Braddock said.
Vice Chancellor of Higher Education Sid Hudson told the task force that developing and maintaining a trained work force is one way to get high marks when base closings are considered.
He said the state's higher education system has put together an education and training partnership with Tinker that could be used as a model for similar programs.
He said 65 percent of Tinker's work force _ 14,000 people _ is civilian. Half of those civilians will be eligible for retirement over the next five to 10 years, which means Tinker will need to hire 1,000 people a year through 2007.
These include 2,432 management, engineering and administrative personnel, 1,857 trade and craft workers, 643 interns and 254 managers.
Hudson said Tinker and the higher education system have agreed on a memorandum of understanding to work together to meet the work force training needs of the base.
He said similar programs could be installed in other parts of the state. The cost of funding such programs could be less than $5 million a year, he said.
Bob Berry of Bass Construction Co. in Enid urged the panel to move quickly in making recommendations to the Legislature. He said the federal base closure committee will place more emphasis on programs already in place than on ones that are planned.