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Associated Press Newswires
General, Governor Tell Strategy To Keep Military Units In Florida
By BRENT KALLESTAD
26 January 2005
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A retired four-star general and Gov. Jeb Bush outlined to lawmakers Wednesday some of Florida's strategy on keeping military assets in the state, including the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy.
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, and Mel Martinez, R-Orlando, and U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, have led the way to date fighting the Navy's proposal last month to reduce the carrier force by retiring the Mayport-based warship.
Despite a lack of political muscle in the nation's capital where Florida is represented by two first-term U.S. senators, Bush believes national defense concerns will carry the day in the final analysis.
"A parochial case is expected, a national security case is respected," Bush said, noting Mayport's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.
"In the case of Mayport, for example, we have a compelling national security case," Bush said. "The port ... that can get the troops, the sailors, out to sea ... the carriers themselves, is in Mayport," Bush said. "Norfolk (Va.) takes hours. It's an inland port."
The Secretary of Defense has requested all states have their recommendations on base closings in by May 16.
"We're in the ninth inning," Gen. B.J. Davis told the House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs on Wednesday.
Davis, who is retired, co-chairs a base closure panel created in 2003 to safeguard Florida's 21 military installations and three unified commands during the 2005 round of BRAC.
"Defense-related economic activity in Florida is $44 billion a year making it the third largest industry in the state," committee Chairman Stan Jordan, R-Jacksonville, reminded his panel Wednesday.
The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce says Navy salaries bring about $2 billion a year to the region and the Navy has a $7 billion financial effect on the local economy.
"Obviously that's a challenge," Bush said Wednesday about the Kennedy's future.
"I think the arrival of Sen. Martinez particularly will be helpful since he has a great relationship with the administration," Bush said.
The governor also said he is also concerned about other military installations in the state, ranging from the Navy Depot in Jacksonville to Naval and Air Force bases in the western Panhandle.
One of Florida's primary military assets is the Joint Gulf Range Complex that covers most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It is operated by Eglin Air Force Base but also used by other Navy and Air Force bases and units for training and weapons testing.
The gulf complex and Florida bases, including Eglin, Naval Air Station Key West and Avon Park Air Force Range, have taken on added importance for training with the 2003 closure of a Navy bombing range on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico.