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The Florida Times-Union

Governor, General Air Case To Keep Bases

Lawmakers Get Briefing On Some Of Florida's Strategy On Bases, Carrier Kennedy

27 January 2005
Copyright © 2005 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

A retired four-star general and Gov. Jeb Bush outlined to state lawmakers Wednesday some of Florida's strategy on keeping its military assets, including the Jacksonville-based USS John F. Kennedy.

Florida's lawmakers in Washington, including U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez and U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville, have led the fight against one of the Pentagon's proposed budget cuts: reducing the carrier force by retiring the aircraft carrier based at Mayport Naval Station next year.

Despite a lack of political muscle in the nation's capital where Florida is represented by two first-term senators, the governor 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 about Mayport's easy access to the Atlantic Ocean. "In the case of Mayport, for example, we have a compelling national security case. The port . . . that can get the troops, the sailors, out to sea . . . the carriers themselves, is in Mayport.

"Norfolk takes hours. It's an inland port," Bush added, noting that the Navy has two carrier ports on the East Coast.

However, state Rep. Stan Jordan, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the Florida House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, said in a phone interview that retired Air Force Gen. B.J. Davis told the committee the Kennedy is a Defense Department budget issue, not a direct BRAC issue.

Under the BRAC legislation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to publish by May 16 the list of bases to be closed or realigned during the process.

Co-chairman of Bush's advisory council on BRAC, Davis said it will be a highly competitive effort to safeguard Florida's 21 military installations and three unified commands during this round of BRAC, according to Jordan.

Davis told the committee that Florida's strategy is protecting what it has and preparing to accept missions from bases closed or realigned in other states, Jordan explained.

"Defense-related economic activity in Florida is $44 billion a year, making it the third largest industry in the state," Jordan added.

Davis discussed the weakness of state installations, but Jordan said he wouldn't "single any out."

However, the governor also said he is also concerned about the state's military installations, ranging from Jacksonville's Naval Air Depot to Whiting Field Naval Air Station in Milton and Air Force bases in the western Panhandle.

Salaries at Jacksonville's Navy installations bring about $2 billion a year to the region and the Navy has a $7 billion financial effect on the local economy, according to the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

If the Kennedy is retired, Jordan said he doesn't think Mayport will close under this BRAC.

"Mayport as a carrier port has tremendous value with the training opportunities nearby," Jordan said.

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 the Navy and other Air Force bases and units for training and weapons testing.

The gulf complex and Florida bases, including Eglin, Key West Naval Air Station 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.

Times-Union writer Gregory Piatt contributed to this report.

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