HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Even without knowing the specifics of the upcoming military budget cuts and the recommendation of new rounds of Base Realignment and Closures, there is a lot of concern that the changes could affect Hill Air Force Base.
"It's too early to know any of the details that they are thinking, but everyone should be worried," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced plans to cut military spending as the military recovers from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Part of that plan is to close military bases in 2013 and 2015.
Another part is the expected delay in production of perhaps 100 or more of the F-35 Lightning II stealth attack planes that the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are counting on to replace a portion of their aging aircraft fleets.
Two F-35 squadrons are scheduled to go to Hill, and Bishop said the first planes off the assembly line will be sent to Hill.
"We're gearing up to fight the battle because we have a great economic engine at Hill," said Rick Mayfield, executive director of the Utah Defense Alliance.
Panetta's announcement reminds many of when, in 1995 and 2005, Hill Air Force Base, Utah's sixth-largest employer, survived the BRAC closings.
Hill is also home to the Ogden Air Logistics Center, one of three USAF Air Logistics Centers.
Bishop said it would be costly to close any of the three bases with air logistics centers -- including Tinker AFB in Oklahoma, home of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, and Robins AFB in Georgia, home of the Warner-Robins Air Logistics Center. However, no base will be immune to this round of BRAC.
"Even though a base has put in millions and billions of dollars into things, it could easily close," said former Congressman Jim Hansen. "They could have full workload and they could still be closed."
Hansen would know.
He served as a commissioner on the 2005 BRAC Commission and was serving in Congress in 1995 when two of the five existing air logistics centers were closed. He said officials put all five on the list, ranked them from one to five and ended up closing the two on the bottom of the list: Kelly Air Logistics Center in San Antonio, Texas, and McClellan AFB, in Sacramento County, Calif.
Hansen and Bishop said there are many reasons to keep Hill open, including the Minuteman III missile launch facility and the Utah Test Training Range affiliated with the base.
"But you can't say never, that's why I'm nervous about them starting the process," Bishop said. "In the history there was a time when Hill was on the chopping block, so you can't say it won't happen. It would be dumb to do it, but people should be nervous about it."
Before the decision makers start taking the process before Congress, the Air Force has to present certain information.
Air Force spokesperson Jennifer Cassidy said the next step will come on Feb. 3 when officials make their structure announcement, which addresses the Air Force's upcoming fiscal year.
On Feb. 13 they will roll out the budget and then on March 6 the personnel part of that budget will be released.
Tage Flint, president of the Utah Defense Alliance, said the UDA will be watching the congressional process closely.
"We will try to make sure the right, positive information gets to the right people," Flint said. "We will try to be the community's on-the-ground workers and rally the community."
Bishop and Hansen both said they hope that the BRAC Commission first looks at closing overseas bases.
"We have bases in 50 different countries," Hansen said. "A lot of those nations can handle it themselves now."
Online: WCF article