Senator John ThuneWith thousands of Ellsworth supporters rallying behind us last week in Rapid City, we presented a compelling and fact-filled case before three members of the Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC). But our work is not finished.
It was a first-class presentation and event organized by the Ellsworth Task Force, Chamber of Commerce and staffs of our local, state, and federal elected officials. The overwhelming show of support from the Black Hills area residents should be burned into the minds of the attending commissioners as they continue their process of analyzing the list presented to them by the Department of Defense.
As I told the commissioners, the B-1 bomber is the backbone of our nation’s bomber force and plays a critical role in our War on Terror. My question to them was: Does it make military sense to house the entire B-1 fleet in a single location? We presented solid arguments that it does not.
Past base closures managed to cut out some of the fat and excess of our nation’s military structure, but now they are cutting the muscle. That is a serious concern as we assess our national security interests.
Ellsworth has proven itself over and over in different theaters of operation around the world. It should continue to be a part of our force structure because of the military principle of strategic redundancy. That principle says that we should distribute our military assets to different locations in the country to make them less vulnerable to attack.
I agree with retired Air Force Four-Star General John Loh, former commander of Air Combat Command, who told the commissioners that the Air Force would be violating his long-standing principle of not putting more than 36 heavy bombers at a single base. Closing Ellsworth would put all 67 B-1s at one base in Texas, with one runway.
The B-1 Bomber is the heart of our bomber force and delivered more weapons and struck more targets than any other bomber or fighter in Iraq and Afghanistan. We simply don’t know what the future threats to the United States will be. If we need firepower and airpower to get to a conflict in a hurry, we cannot risk having our sole B-1 base grounded because of bad weather, flocks of geese, or a terrorist attack.
I am proud that so many concerned and active citizens turned out to support Ellsworth while we made these arguments to the BRAC commissioners. The commission will continue taking testimony and scrutinizing arguments made regarding the 180 military base closings and realignments before them. Be assured, over the coming weeks and months, we intend to keep presenting our arguments and supporting evidence to the commission as to why Ellsworth should stay open.
The commissioners will make their recommendations to President Bush by September 8th, and then he has until September 23rd to accept or reject the entire report. Before they offer the report to the President, the commission can make changes to the list – with at least five of nine commissioners needed to remove Ellsworth from the list.
Working together, we will continue to fight to the end to secure those five votes and breathe new life into Ellsworth. Thank you all for your help.