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Fighting for Ellsworth

June 10, 2005

When the Pentagon released its Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list last month, I said the Pentagon was dead wrong to include Ellsworth Air Force Base. Since that day and in the coming weeks, I have been and will be working with Senator Johnson, Congresswoman Herseth, Governor Rounds and the Ellsworth Task Force to prove that point.

We have three pieces of legislation moving through the U.S. Senate, with companion legislation in the House. Our delegation is also preparing for the BRAC commissioners’ visit to South Dakota.

Currently, our bill to delay the current BRAC round is gaining broad bipartisan support. The National Guard Association of the U.S., Adjutants General Association of the U.S., and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard Association of the U.S. have endorsed the legislation and it currently has 17 bipartisan co-sponsors.

This legislation would delay the process until most troops return from Iraq. It is based on the common sense idea that we shouldn’t be closing a single domestic base while America is at war. We also should not close a single domestic base until a complete analysis is conducted on overseas facility requirements and several pending reports are released and their impact on BRAC is determined, including two Homeland Security related reports and the Pentagon’s long-term planning document, the Quadrennial Defense Review.

I’ve also introduced legislation with Senator Johnson to allow uniformed members of the Armed Forces to testify before the BRAC commission. It is not only fair, but vital that BRAC commission members hear first-hand the value of bases like Ellsworth from service members working on the base.

Also, in response to the continuing refusal by the Department of Defense (DoD) to release all certified data and documentation related to its recent BRAC recommendations, Senator Olympia Snowe, of Maine, and I have introduced legislation that would shut down the current BRAC round if DoD does not make this information available.

Three of the nine BRAC commissioners will visit Ellsworth on June 21 for a site visit and then a regional hearing at the Civic Center. I look forward to seeing a huge show of support from local residents as we impress on the commissioners the importance of Ellsworth to America’s defense and our community.

I believe that the decades of work by Air Force leaders, our congressional delegation, our governor and our community leaders has been underestimated. As I look at Ellsworth, I see a highly cost-efficient, geographically centered base of operations that provides opportunities for housing current and future generations of aircraft and advanced military systems.

As if Ellsworth’s value to our national security and its value to South Dakota’s economy are not already enough to convince BRAC members to remove us from the list, the community environment surrounding Ellsworth is recognized as one of the nation’s best in terms of quality of life, family employment opportunities, cost of living and educational opportunities.

We should not put “all our eggs in one basket” by consolidating all our B-1 bombers at one base in Texas. If we move all our planes to one spot, our nation’s B-1 mission is only a Texas tornado away from disaster. In fact, on Labor Day in 1952 at Carswell Air Force Base at Ft. Worth, Texas, a tornado struck the base and destroyed or heavily damaged 25 B-36 bombers. By the time the wind subsided, 82 bombers had been damaged.

Placing vital military assets at different locations has always been an unshakable tenet of our national security. We should not abandon that tenet as we enter an era of emerging threats and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Now we need to do everything we can to convince five members of the BRAC commission with our argument and get them to remove us from the list.

It’ll take a lot of work and it will be an uphill battle, but I’m confident our congressional delegation, the governor, the Ellsworth Task Force and the people of South Dakota are up to it.