FORT WAYNE – Legislation advancing in Congress would prevent the Defense Department from considering closing military bases in the next few years.
Yearly defense authorization bills in the House and Senate also would keep the Starbase education program under the Pentagon’s jurisdiction.
Each measure would seem to bolster Fort Wayne’s Air National Guard base, which supports a squadron of combat jets and operates a Starbase academy for fifth-graders, and the city’s Army National Guard installation.
The bills reject a Pentagon request for $2.4 billion in fiscal 2014 so it can begin another phase of its Base Realignment and Closure process the following year.
Many of us have been assuming there is another round of BRAC coming at some point in time. This will delay the next round, Rob Young, president of the Fort Wayne Base Community Council, said Monday about the legislation. The council is a support group for military families.
I don’t think that any of us should think that there will be no more BRAC, Young said of the sporadic process that began in 1988. So as a result, we need to stay vigilant and do everything we can as a community to promote and enhance the Air Guard base and the Army Guard base, all the military presence we have here.
The House approved its defense bill Friday by a 315-108 vote. Eight of Indiana’s nine members voted in favor of the legislation, with Rep. André Carson, D-7th, opposing it.
The Senate Armed Forces Committee approved its defense bill last week by a 23-3 vote. Freshman Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., voted in favor of advancing the bill to the entire Senate.
The last round of BRAC, in 2005, sent three F-16 fighter jets and more than 200 jobs to Fort Wayne’s 122nd Fighter Wing from bases in Terre Haute and Springfield, Ill.
The local base has since converted from F-16 aircraft to A-10 jets that provide air support for ground troops.
Congress waved off an Air Force cost-cutting plan last year that would have eliminated 150 jobs at the Ferguson Road base by replacing its 20 A-10s with about 10 planes used for surveillance and intelligence gathering.
The White House issued a statement last week objecting to elements of the House defense bill, including the hold on BRAC and the continued operation of Starbase by the Defense Department.
The statement said BRAC would allow the Defense Department to rightsize its infrastructure as required to meet the fiscal limitation of statutory spending caps.
President Barack Obama’s administration has proposed consolidating all federal science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, including Starbase, into the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution.
Starbase Indiana at the 122nd Fighter Wing is among 76 such admission-free academies run by the Pentagon.
Talk with any fifth-grade teacher in any school district in the region and they will tell you that the impact that program has on kids’ STEM education is second to none, Young said about Starbase Indiana.
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved seven amendments to the defense bill offered by Donnelly. One would have the Pentagon assess new tools for screening mental health needs suicide risk factors among service members.
Another of his amendments would require Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to approve decisions to cancel deployments of reserve units. The measure comes after the Army canceled scheduled deployments this year of 1,000 Indiana Army National Guard members, half of them from the Fort Wayne-based 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment.
The House defense bill included three amendments by Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, including one to extend whistle-blower protections to military personnel who are victims of sexual assault.