Task force asks for money to fight possible base closures

Thursday, December 13th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

MCALESTER, Okla. (AP) _ A legislative task force charged with preventing any state military installations from closing wants the Legislature to reconvene a special session and allocate the group $4 million.

The Oklahoma Military Base Closure Prevention Task Force needs the money to help military communities fight possible closures and to pay for implementing a job-training program at each facility, members said during Wednesday's meeting at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.

``The quicker we start the better we are,'' task force Chairman Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus, said. ``I think we need to press forward.''

The task force approved a resolution that calls for giving each Oklahoma military community _ Enid, Altus, Lawton, McAlester and Midwest City _ $250,000 as ``seed'' money to aid them as the Defense Department, the federal government and Congress begin the process.

Another resolution asks for $2.75 million to set up education and job-training programs. Committee members said such programs would impress a Base Realignment and Closure panel.

The seed money would be spent at the discretion of each community, although the task force members anticipate strict guidelines.

``The communities are going to spend much more money than we will,'' Braddock said. ``I felt the state would help jump start this process.''

A congressional conference committee on Tuesday approved another round of base closings in 2005, two years later than the Bush administration requested. The action awaits final House and Senate approval.

``If communities think there is more time, that would be a mistake,'' said Enid businessman and committee member Bob Berry. ``If by the end of 2003, you haven't fixed what's wrong with your town, you're toast.''

Berry talked to Defense Department officials and compiled a report on what a new base closure committee may be looking for when considering which facilities should remain open.

Berry said the issues deal with quality of life and include all levels of education; medical services; spouse employment; housing and air service.

Oklahoma's military facilities _ Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Fort Sill in Lawton, Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Altus Air Force Base and the McAlester plant _ have survived previous base closure commissions.

Tinker Air Force Base and the Army's Defense Ammunition Center have flourished from base closings in San Antonio and Savanna, Ill.

``The next three years are the most important for Oklahoma military bases ever,'' Braddock said.

The McAlester meeting was the first to take place at one of the military facilities. The committee plans to hold meetings at the other four.

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