Sunday, August 28, 2005

Why Do We Have Air Force Bases?

I've long recognized excessive attention on the local economic effects of military base closures (the now-concluding BRAC Commission). Earlier this spring I received a mass-mailing from Representative Cathy McMorris which included this statement:
"My membership on the Armed Services Readiness sub-committee will enable me to influence military base realignment critical to the future of Fairchild Air Force Base, which is integral to our region's economy."
So I emailed her office with this simple question:
Could you explain to me how Fairchild is integral to our nation's defense? I believe this is the key question as local economic concerns should not trump national defense. However, pro-Fairchild statements are generally too focused on local economics.
After almost a month without an answer, I printed out the email and mailed it to her DC office. Several weeks after that, I got another taxpayer-funded mailing with a postcard asking for feedback on her constituents' most important issues. I sent it back suggesting that her office actually respond to constituent mail and email. On April 14th - seven weeks after the original email - I got this message:

Dear Nick:

Thank you for contacting my office regarding Fairchild Air Force Base and the role it plays in our regions economy. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, one of my top priorities is to ensure we keep our nation safe. As you mentioned in your letter, I am currently serving on the Readiness Sub-Committee which has jurisdiction over the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). Later this year the BRAC will submit to Congress a list of military bases recommended for closing or realignment.

In our District Fairchild plays a critical role in our economic security and our national security. As the only re-fueling tanker base West of the Rockies, Fairchild is playing a significant role in the Global War on Terror by supplying the fuel for our planes and bombers. In addition, Fairchild is home to the Air Force's only survival school and houses a unit of Washington's Air National Guard. Fairchild is also well positioned for the future with 4,300 acres of land that is protected from encroachment and airspace interference.

Fairchild is also important to our economic security. It is the largest employer in Spokane County, responsible for over 5,000 direct jobs and hundreds of indirect jobs. I agree with you that in the BRAC process we need to focus on Fairchild's strategic location and the integral role it is playing in the Global War on Terror. This is my intent and purpose.

Thanks again for writing. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if I can be of further assistance.

Best Wishes,

Cathy McMorris
Member of Congress

Don't skim the message or you might miss the answer. The answer, in the end, was little more than geographic isolation - which seems to be a common attribute among potential base closures. Tankers, schools, and National Guard units can be moved, and we still don't know why re-fueling needs to be centered near Spokane, WA.

Fairchild did survive the BRAC process. Presumably someone was able to answer the question with greater clarity and precision than the district's representative in Congress.

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