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May 23, 2005

Base Realignment and Closure: National Guard and Regional Implications

By and

Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) is one of the most important-and controversial-issues affecting military transformation. U.S. basing infrastructure must be recalibrated to reflect America's forever changing national security requirements. In the wake of the release of the May 13 BRAC list, many observers wondered how realignment and closures will affect important military assets outside of the active duty component. At a recent conference hosted by The Heritage Foundation and the Minuteman Institute for National Defense Studies, experts considered the potential ramifications of the latest round of BRAC on the National Guard.

General Observations and Challenges

Conference participants made the following general observations on issues and challenges facing National Guard and Reserve units during the BRAC process.

Positive Points

  • By law, BRAC is not used to eliminate units but to move units to other locations. The public perception that units will disappear is not correct. BRAC is about maximizing the national security value of available assets.
  • Savings in BRAC come mostly from releasing civilian workers and correspondingly cutting back on operations expenses, maintenance, and similar areas-but not by eliminating military assets. While these savings may be economically painful to local communities, they support the goal of redistribution of assets to better meet Department of Defense needs.
  • Services can use BRAC to reorganize assets more quickly than would otherwise be possible, without bureaucracy as a major impediment. The Air Force, for example, can increase efficiency through the BRAC process by consolidating multiple units of similar aircraft or moving active components into the Reserve Component.

Problems in the Process

  • Using the same criteria to evaluate National Guard facilities as active duty bases is like comparing apples and oranges. Some National Guard units had difficulty answering BRAC's "data call" because BRAC information gathering mechanisms were designed for active duty bases. In addition, other factors-such as secrecy surrounding the BRAC information gathering process and the large numbers of facilities for which State Adjutant Generals are responsible (Kansas's Adjutant General, for example, is responsible for more than 60 armories and installations)-may impact National Guard participation in BRAC deliberations.
  • The specter of legal action over whether BRAC can close National Guard facilities without the approval of their states' governors may cause difficulty for the BRAC commission.
  • BRAC is about transformation, but with an increasing focus on "jointness," services must be sure to communicate amongst themselves during the BRAC process. In the past, some bases hosting multiple services have been closed or realigned without informing all the services operating at them. This can cause a major disconnect in operations.

Major Themes for the BRAC Process to Consider

Integration: This should be the dominant idea in national security. The National Guard is critical in both the vertical and horizontal chains of command and can be considered the "connective tissue" of the national security fabric.

Federated Responsibilities: In a recent speech to the nation's governors, President George W. Bush addressed his audience as his "fellow commanders-in-chief." Pentagon planning, however, does not reflect any deep understanding of this relationship. This understanding is important in the intersection-and the potential conflicts- that commanders who find themselves responsible for both Title 10 (active duty) and Title 32 (Guard/Reserve) missions may face.

Regional Perspectives: The state-by-state approach is not necessarily the best one. Using the Guard as regional responders-an idea prominent among National Guard planners-may better maximize the Guard's military value to the nation. Some experts suggest that NORTHCOM could shrink its own operations and devolve control to eight regional commands, under National Guard commanders who could leverage their personal relationships with governors and local knowledge of resources, geography, and infrastructure.

Social Dimension of Strategy: Relationships with local communities are important for all military bases, but they are especially so for the National Guard. Service members are also members of the community, in some cases for many decades. Simply closing an armory may save money, but doing so further dissociates the military from the community and can create a vacuum in public consciousness. It is important that the public retain a sense of connectedness to "their" military members and their service.

While war fighting and efficiency concerns must drive the BRAC process, local concerns must also be considered to ensure a truly successful BRAC.

For more information on Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), see Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 703, Making the 2005 BRAC a Success , Executive Memorandum No. 953, "Defense Priorities for the Next Four Years," WebMemo No. 507, "BRAC Must Not Be Delayed," and Backgrounder No. 1716, " Guidelines for a Successful BRAC," all available at Heritage.org.

Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Kathy Gudgel, Research Assistant in Defense and National Security, contributed to this piece. This paper is based on presentations given at "Base Realignment and Closure: National Guard and Hometown Implications" on May 10, 2005, at the National Guard Memorial Building.

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