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Fort Buchanan: A combined strategic master plan needed to stop possible closing

Fort Buchanan faces possible closing


March 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

In less than eight weeks, Puerto Rico’s Fort Buchanan, the last U.S. military base operating on the island, is likely to appear on the list of military bases recommended for closure or realignment under the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act of 1990. Little more than a year after the closure of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads (NSRR), not much has been done by Puerto Rico’s public or private sectors to appeal for the installation’s being retained taking into account the significant impact the base’s disappearance will have on the island.

During the past two years, the closing of military installations in Vieques, NSRR, and Sabana Seca have affected the social and economic development of more than 20 municipalities, translating into an economic impact of close to $2 billion to Puerto Rico. If Fort Buchanan is also closed the metro area–specifically the municipalities of Bayamón and Guaynabo that border the base–could see the disappearance of another $200 million from the local economy.

"There is a strong possibility that Fort Buchanan will appear on the 2005 BRAC list of military bases for closure or realignment," said U.S. Army Retired General Félix Santoni, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army in Puerto Rico. "I believe the key reason is that we do not have important contacts in Washington, D.C. who will really make an effort to tell our side of the story regarding the importance of keeping the base open. In the past four years, the Calderón administration did nothing to keep the base open and I still have to hear an official statement from Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá stating the government’s official support. Even a realignment of Fort Buchanan’s services, such as the school and post exchange, and elimination of the housing facilities will be a nightmare for military personnel, and civilian and federal employees’ families."

Fort Buchanan first appeared on the infamous list of bases considered for closure or realignment during the 1995 BRAC process. If the original 1995 BRAC commission’s decision to implement a major realignment at Fort Buchanan had been approved, the military’s annual savings would have reached $21.4 million along with a 20-year net present value of $255.3 million.

Since the initial 1988 BRAC process, four rounds of base closures, which included 97 base closings, 55 base realignments, and 235 minor installation closures or relocations, have saved the military $6.6 billion annually. For the 2005 BRAC process, military sources estimate that as many as 25% of all military bases will be closed or realigned. The U.S. Army’s budget for fiscal years 2006 and 2007 is $98.6 billion and one of its key objectives is to restructure a force designed for contingency operations during the post-Cold War era to what is now a modular force for continuous operations.

The U.S. Army South’s move to Fort Buchanan in 1998 rescued the base from being closed and included again in the 2005 BRAC process. When the U.S. Army South relocated its command to San Antonio, Texas in 2002, it left Fort Buchanan exposed to the whims of the BRAC Commission’s decision to operate or close the base. The only difference today is that the base is now a U.S. Army Reserve post, not a regular Army post, and will be judged differently from 1995.

Fort Buchanan is the southernmost U.S. Army base, strategically located near the Mona Passage and its global trade routes. The military installation is the only U.S. Army Power Support Base in the region, including the Caribbean and South America. With an underestimated economic impact to the community of more than $200 million annually and an estimated market value of $750,000 per acre, Fort Buchanan provides services to a total population of more than 100,000 active duty, civilian, and retired personnel and their families.

As large as 4,500 acres in the 1940s, Fort Buchanan today occupies 746 acres of what has become prime real estate in the middle of Bayamón and Guaynabo, two of Puerto Rico’s major municipalities. While it has undergone a number of command changes since its founding in 1923, the base has mostly performed under the U.S. Army’s command.

Being a U.S. Army Reserve post could be a factor in Fort Buchanan’s favor during the 2005 BRAC process along with the number of support activities provided to military and related personnel on the island. Fort Buchanan supports an estimated 104,081 individuals, including 90 military personnel, 699 civilians, 1,754 tenants, and 137 civilian contractors, as well as federal employees who work for 23 agencies on the island, and family members who live on post or have base privileges.

Fort Buchanan is a relatively small base with a commissary, Class VI store, post office, gas station, auto shop, lodging for visiting families and health and dental clinics along with an Army and Air Force Exchange Service / Post Exchange. Close to 2,000 students attend Fort Buchanan’s four schools and the base also offers child & youth services and a child development center; a community club, teen center, library, aquatic park, physical fitness center, and bowling center. The base also offers community service facilities, sports equipment, and a golf course.

Members of local U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) organizations have access as well to partial or complete base privileges at Fort Buchanan. This includes groups such as the U.S. Army Reserve and U.S. National Guard; and federal service organizations such as finance, Criminal Investigative Division, U.S. Property and Fiscal Officer, and Veterinary Detachment. In addition, there is a variety of non-DOD organizations on base such as Central Texas College, New Hampshire College, Carlson Wagonlit, Banco Popular, U.S. Postal Service, and Army and Air Force Exchange concessions. The Puerto Rico Treasury Department and Transportation & Public Works Administration also operate offices on post.

Everyone has a plan

During CARIBBEAN BUSINESS’ investigation, we found not one but several ideas in the planning or early execution stage to deal with the possible inclusion of Fort Buchanan in the 2005 BRAC process. Unfortunately, this could be a bad omen for the efforts being made to keep the military installation open, as there appears to be little communication between the groups and different strategies suggested for implementation.

"Fort Buchanan is the only military installation ever to have been taken off the BRAC process [in 1998 when U.S. Army South relocated from Panama to Puerto Rico]," said U.S. Army Retired Lt. Col. Patrick Balcázar, who has been part of consultant teams analyzing military closures. "What most people don’t understand is that the future of a military base depends on many factors, including the relationship between the military and the community and the local government. It’s like the three legs of a tripod; if one leg breaks the tripod can’t stand."

Balcázar also wondered why no one had realized–or wanted to mention–the effect of Roosevelt Roads’ closure on the island’s $1.6 billion deficit. Once the installation ceased operations, approximately $1 billion ceased to enter the local economy. In addition, another $10 million in taxes stopped going to the Puerto Rico Treasury Department and infrastructure costs such as $21 million in annual electricity costs disappeared.

Both Santoni and Balcázar agree that the U.S. Navy has become very proficient in selling off parcels of unused property. Two military bases in California, Twenty-nine Palms Marine Corps Air-Ground Center, and Marine Corps Air Station El Toro were subject to closure and offered to surrounding counties for development. Since the local government was unable to come to an agreement on their development, the U.S. Marine moved to retake the land for individual sale, which the military corps has done successfully.

"The long-term view of Fort Buchanan is pessimistic but it is not too late to turn it around," said Balcázar. "The government needs to get organized, and get the best people in the business to speak for the base. We need to start planning how to keep the military here, including asking the federal agencies in Puerto Rico to use part of its funding."

The military realignment plan for Fort Buchanan

The Puerto Rico National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve have proposed a realignment plan for on-post base operations that would provide savings on operations and manpower as well as adding military value to the installation. The plan includes relocating 17 units; activating six units; adding a Multi-Unit Readiness Center and an Armed Forces Readiness Center; and relocating six federal agencies on post. Fort Buchanan would then become a base for unit activations, enhance recruiting and retention opportunities for military occupational specialties from the pool of more than 95,000 college students in the area, and expand leadership and professional development opportunities among commissioned and noncommissioned officers as assignments increase.

"The Puerto Rico National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve have also considered moving the Naval Reserve Center at the now closed Naval Station Roosevelt Roads," said Santoni. "In addition, the National Guard is considering relocating its headquarters from Sabana Seca to Fort Buchanan and building a new $17.5 million facility that would include a Readiness Training Center and English Language Training School so military recruits could be taught there. According to the plan, this would add approximately 1,100 soldiers to Fort Buchanan’s population."

The municipal Local Redevelopment Authority Plan

Bayamón and Guaynabo share Fort Buchanan’s borders as well as a plan that proposes maintaining an active military presence at Fort Buchanan while implementing an industrialization plan. In 1995, when Fort Buchanan was placed on the BRAC Commission’s list, the municipalities formed the Local Redevelopment Authority of the municipalities of Bayamón and Guaynabo (LRAMBG), which was certified by the DOD. While the local redevelopment authority (LRA) plan was presented as an alternative to Fort Buchanan’s possible closure, the U.S. Army South’s decision to relocate from Panama to Puerto Rico kept the plan from being implemented.

The LRAMBG are very much aware of the economic and social impact that Fort Buchanan’s military presence has on the life of its surrounding communities. The LRA plan includes retaining the U.S. Army Reserve at Fort Buchanan. Key to the plan would be for the military to keep a reduced number of facilities and turn over underutilized property to the LRA, which would generate jobs and economic development opportunities.

The LRA’s proposal is based on demonstration projects in the mainland U.S. between the Army and neighboring municipalities such as Monterey, Cal. and the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center; San Antonio, Texas and Brooks Air Force Base; and Austin, Texas and the Bergstrom Air Force Base. According to the LRA plan, the U.S. Army would enter into long-term service contracts with the LRA for negotiated fees, creating savings to the military.

Services to be considered would include garbage collection, street sweeping, street maintenance, streetlights, storm drains, and street sewers. Other services would be traffic control, animal control, police protection and surveillance, park maintenance, emergency medical services, and property maintenance including reconstruction and refurbishing of housing areas. U.S. Army employees who work at these jobs would be offered similar positions with the LRA. In addition, the equipment and buildings associated with these services would be transferred to the LRA at no cost for the term of the contract.

The LRA plan is even more ambitious. It proposes turning military housing into homes for retired veterans and the elderly, as well as operating and maintaining the active military personnel’s housing. As to Fort Buchanan’s four schools, the buildings and equipment would also be turned over to the LRA for their operation.

The objective of the LRA plan for Fort Buchanan would be to allow the military to focus on its core mission in Puerto Rico while other nonmilitary services are rendered by the private LRAMBG. This plan raises reservations about how the LRA, which after all is made up of two municipal governments, could maintain the traditional quality levels the military is accustomed to. Financing also should raise a red flag since the LRA would depend on obtaining federal grants and support from foundations in the short- and midterm for initial funding.

The Acevedo Vilá-Fortuño plan

On March 22, State Department Secretary Marisara Pont revealed the names of a committee appointed by the governor of Puerto Rico to design a strategic plan to keep Fort Buchanan open (Grupo de Trabajo para el Fortalecimiento y Desarrollo del Fuerte Buchanan). The group is made up of Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño; Federal Affairs Administration Director Eduardo Bhatia; Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Jorge Silva; and National Guard Adjutant General Francisco Márquez.

"Our efforts are concentrated on keeping Fort Buchanan open for the benefit of the community, members of the military forces and their families, and the veterans and retirees who receive services in this installation," said Pont. "Currently, Fort Buchanan offers support and services to more than 14,000 retirees and veterans through its health clinics and the commissary. And we must point out that it is the only installation that provides support and military capacity to the U.S. military forces in the Caribbean and South America."

According to Pont, the committee will concentrate on the repeal of a building moratorium on Fort Buchanan. In 2002, the U.S. Congress imposed a building moratorium on post that was directly linked to the continuance of the U.S. Navy’s training in Vieques. The moratorium specifically stated that the Vieques Naval Training Range had to remain available for military exercises if additional public works construction was to be made. With the departure of the U.S. Navy from Vieques, and subsequently from Roosevelt Roads, the building moratorium remains active "until a new law is enacted to authorize any acquisition, construction, conversion, rehabilitation, extension, or improvement to any facility at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico." The issue is before the Appropriation Military Construction subcommittees for remedial action.

If the moratorium is lifted, military groups such as the National Guard could build new headquarters on post. The group has scheduled a trip to Washington, D.C. for April to follow up on the efforts made by Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño and the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration to have the moratorium revoked.

Efforts to gather information about Puerto Rico’s chances of keeping Fort Buchanan open began in 2004, when the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development & Commerce commissioned Virginia-based consultants The Spectrum Group and Florida law firm Tew Cardenas LLP to do a baseline assessment of Fort Buchanan. According to the report, Fort Buchanan is expected to score low in areas that relate directly to military value. While its strategic location in the Caribbean and the east-west trade routes that cross the Mona Passage plus the 5,000 members of the U.S. Reserve are in Fort Buchanan’s favor, factors such as support services available to thousands of military and civilian personnel do not provide high marks in the ranking list.

The Spectrum Group / Tew Cardenas LLP has made a series of recommendations mostly based on the military and municipal plans, emphasizing the need to add military value to Fort Buchanan. Among the group of assessment team members were U.S. Air Force Retired Gen. J.B. Davis, a 1995 BRAC Commission member; U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John "Skip" Hall, a commander of a military installation during a previous BRAC process with in-depth knowledge of the process; and Roger Sattler, a government consultant who has worked with state government agencies such as the Puerto Rico Economic Development Administration and Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. for the past 35 years.

This week, Gov. Acevedo Vilá and members of his administration will also meet with U.S. Army Retired Gen. George Joulwan, president of Virginia-based One Team Inc., a strategic consulting firm. Gen. Joulwan is a former special assistant to the Office of the President of the U.S. including President George W. Bush. He was also executive officer to the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; executive assistant and aide to the vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army; and director of requirements for the U.S. Army.

Prior to becoming the supreme allied commander for Europe, where he served as special assistant to Gen. Alexander Haig, Gen. Joulwan’s 40-year career included military service during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, two combat tours of Vietnam, and commander in chief of U.S. forces in Central and South America. Recommended as a highly regarded member of the military at its highest levels, Joulwan may be Puerto Rico’s best chance to put together a sound strategic plan that communicates Fort Buchanan’s importance to Puerto Rico from an economic, social and, most important, military point of view.

One combined strategic plan is needed

The government of Puerto Rico, its municipalities, and business and civic community leaders must show a united front and make a convincing argument for Fort Buchanan remaining open. The plans proposed by the Puerto Rico National Guard and U.S. Reserve, the LRAMBG, and the Acevedo Vilá-Fortuño administration each have a variety of positive elements. If combined into one strategic master plan, it could make the difference between an open and a closed Fort Buchanan. But separately, each plan has significant obstacles to overcome.

The single most important obstacle to keeping Fort Buchanan open is the lack of a united front to battle the 2005 BRAC commission’s strict criteria. Most states on the mainland with military installations facing the 2005 BRAC process have established committees headed by the top leaders of their communities’ public and private sectors. They also have elected senators and representatives to the U.S. Congress who will argue to keep the bases in their districts open.

"On the U.S. mainland, governors from states with a high concentration of military bases such as California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas have been working aggressively since the 1995 BRAC process started to keep their installations, funding full-time offices dedicated to preventing closings by demonstrating their military value," said Santoni.

In North Carolina, there is a special commission that deals exclusively with military affairs. Florida has also made the military one of its top priorities, with internal federal affairs liaisons who deal exclusively with the installations and a public-private office dedicated to improving and promoting military communities throughout the state called the Space and Defense programs for Enterprise Florida. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is also committed to the preservation of Los Angeles Air Force Base, after losing 24 bases between 1988 and 1995, one-quarter of all bases lost nationwide, representing 99,000 jobs. He has already appointed a local bipartisan council to develop strategies to save California bases and met in Washington, D.C. with the 53-member California congressional delegation to get their united support.

Last week’s announcement about the Fort Buchanan task force is close to the May 16 deadline, when the 2005 BRAC commission list of bases considered for closure or realignment will be published. Since being elected Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Luis Fortuño has publicly stated his support for the base to remain open.

"The fight to keep Fort Buchanan open is a priority for my office," said Fortuño. "In terms of economic development for the island and services for the community, Fort Buchanan is important for military personnel, reservists, veterans, and federal agency employees; thousands of people who obtain services every month. Federal agency leaders have already warned that if Fort Buchanan’s basic services such as schools, the Post Exchange, and health services are eliminated, the island could lose up to half the jobs it provides. As part of the workgroup created by the governor to design strategies preventing the base’s closing, we will work together to meet with Pentagon officers and congressional leaders who may help us."

Fortuño has already met with high officials from the Pentagon to discuss Fort Buchanan’s attributes. Unfortunately, one hurdle he’s found difficult to overcome is the negative sentiment among the military because of the President Clinton-Gov. Rosselló agreement for Vieques overturned by the Calderón administration.

"The building moratorium at Fort Buchanan was a direct result of the problems that were being encountered in Vieques," said Fortuño. "When the agreement was violated and Roosevelt Roads was closed, the moratorium on Fort Buchanan was retained until the 2005 BRAC results are known. I have already sent letters to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and House Armed Services Committee to repeal the moratorium."

Fortuño has also met with Bayamón Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera and Guaynabo Mayor Hector O’Neill to ensure their support. "Both mayors have met with me and assured me they support any efforts to keep Fort Buchanan open. While they are wary about going through what happened to the municipalities of Ceiba and Naguabo with the closure of Roosevelt Roads, they fully understand the importance of the military base to the economic benefit of their towns. It is very important and they will be part of our strategy to keep the base open."

After all is said and done, the most critical requirement to keep Fort Buchanan open is satisfying the 2005 BRAC commission’s primary criterion–military value. Some of Fort Buchanan’s perceived weaknesses in this area could be bolstered if elements of the military and LRAMBG plans were combined into one strategy. The realignment plan by the Puerto Rico National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve for Fort Buchanan would provide the installation with critical military mission and training facilities. The LRAMBG’s plan to retain the U.S. Army Reserve and turn over a number of facilities and underutilized property to the LRA to generate jobs and economic development opportunities in the community would reduce excess capacity and form a regional partnership.

Another criterion that should be addressed is the local government’s approval of laws that reduce the tax burden on the military when they are relocated to Puerto Rico. Other states on the mainland provide incentives and deferments on taxes for the property of military personnel, such as autos. Encouraging special legislation for the military would demonstrate goodwill on the part of the government of Puerto Rico.

Fort Buchanan’s relationship with the public at large must undergo a radical change as well. Positive bonds should be seen between the people of Puerto Rico and the military forces particularly after the negative impact of the closure of Vieques and Roosevelt Roads. Business and civil organizations must voice their support as well as the 23 local federal agencies. For example, Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce President Leonardo Cordero recently spoke in favor of the military installation remaining open and its importance to the surrounding business community.

While the LRAMBG plan is a suitable alternative should the 2005 BRAC commission suggest a realignment, the mayors of Bayamón and Guaynabo must also commit to Fort Buchanan remaining active. The mayors and the private sector must be part of the official efforts to convey Fort Buchanan’s importance to the island’s economy. If all efforts to keep the base open should fail and Fort Buchanan is ordered to close, the government must avoid a repeat of the Roosevelt Roads’ LRA process where the Ceiba-Naguabo region’s communities still claim they were not given adequate participation. There is no doubt that if Fort Buchanan is closed under the 2005 BRAC process, the military will have to dispose of the land as it is prohibited from retaining an inactive base.

"I believe Buchanan should stay open for three reasons," said Santoni. "The first reason is perhaps one which won’t have a lot of bearing on the 2005 BRAC criteria. This is one of the last bridges the people of Puerto Rico have left with the U.S. We have burned a lot of bridges in the past. In the last State of the Commonwealth address, Gov. Acevedo Vilá didn’t even mention the words United States. We must renew our relationship with the U.S."

According to Santoni, a second reason would be the necessity to provide Puerto Rico’s soldiers and their families, who are making a great sacrifice in the war against terrorism, with a place they can call their own. There are more than 5,000 U.S. Army Reserve soldiers in Puerto Rico and more than 80% have been deployed. Some of these soldiers’ families don’t speak English and need help having services explained to them and being provided with support.

"Third, there are also thousands of veterans, retirees, and employees who work for the federal government who are entitled to the services offered at Fort Buchanan. Maybe none of these reasons goes right to the core of what the 2005 BRAC commission will consider as primary criteria, but the effort must be made to speak out for everyone who will be affected," Santoni said.

Former Sábana Seca Navy Base to be bartered with U.S. mainland developers

In October 2002, few people in Puerto Rico realized the U.S. Naval Security Group Activity (NSGA) Sábana Seca in Toa Baja had closed. Even more significantly, CARIBBEAN BUSINESS has learned the U.S. Navy plans to dispose of the more than 2,000 acres of land in that municipality through bartering with U.S. mainland developers for housing contracts.

"The U.S. Navy base [in Toa Baja] is now planning how to dispose of the land [it occupied] in Sábana Seca," Toa Baja Mayor Aníbal Vega Borges told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS during a recent visit to the town. "What the U.S. Navy is analyzing is how it is going to do it. We are aware it is negotiating with Texas housing developers for military housing in exchange for land in Sábana Seca."

Vega Borges isn’t pleased with this alternative and said he would rather see local investors given the opportunity to acquire the 2,250 acres and develop them according to the town’s urban development plan. Toa Baja’s mayor also wants some of the land to be transferred to the municipal government to be used as part of its economic development plan.

"This land was purchased [by the U.S. Navy] at a bargain price, but now the fact that it could be worth as much as $65 million plays an important role in Toa Baja’s economic development plan. Military bases in Puerto Rico have always been located on some of the choicest areas of the island, and Toa Baja could now benefit from a tourism project, or build houses, a hotel, apartments, or a shopping center," Vega Borges said.

"We have the best intention of establishing attractive tax incentives for whomever comes up with the best economic development plan, but I would prefer it be with a local developer, someone who understand what our needs are," Vega Borges added. In addition to NSGA Sabana Seca’s 2,250 acres, the Toa Baja municipal government is also trying to recover some 2,000 acres in the possession of the Puerto Rico Land Authority.

Vega Borges is also working with Dorado and Vega Alta counterparts to request funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a flood control project to avoid flooding damage by the La Plata River, which crosses the three municipalities.

Naval base closure produced minor economic impact

While nonofficial figures indicate NSGA Sábana Seca contributed about $10 million a year to the local economy, Vega Borges said the actual economic impact on the town was minimal because most of the sailors did their shopping on base and few lived off base.

"In addition, the base had become alienated from the community long before it closed," Vega Borges said. "Years ago, the U.S. Navy had an agreement with the local public schools to provide them with computers, but this disappeared before the death of the [two] sailors [in 1979]. After this incident, all community relations were severed."

Vega Borges referred to an incident that occurred Dec. 3, 1979, when 19 unarmed sailors on a bus to the base were shot at by an unknown number of alleged Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) extremists. Two sailors were killed and 10 wounded in the attack, while seven on the bus were unharmed. The attack was presumed by the authorities to be in retaliation for the deaths of two PIP sympathizers in Cerro Maravilla in Jayuya by the Puerto Rico Police.

How NSGA Sabana Seca found its way to Toa Baja

NSGA Sábana Seca in Toa Baja, on the island’s northern coast, was a national and fleet communications center, which also provided air search and rescue service. Officially, NSGA Sabana Seca is now in "caretaker status," which means the U.S. Navy is still analyzing how to dispose of the property. Meanwhile, limited maintenance activities are being provided on site by Department of Defense (DOD) security personnel and private contractors.

NSGA Sábana Seca’s estimated 2,250 acres are divided into north and south tracts. The north track comprises 918 acres and housed support facilities, such as administration, supply, healthcare, recreational, housing, and retail services. The remaining south tract 1,332 acres accommodated the U.S. naval radar station, for U.S. Navy and other DOD communication services.

A pineapple and grapefruit plantation, known as the Stephenson Place, NSGA Sábana Seca procured the land during World War II to establish a naval ammunition depot. After the war, the depot was deactivated and the property transferred to the U.S. Army, and reassigned to the U.S. Navy in 1949. According to the U.S. Navy, the reason for closing the base is the fact that advances in technology have made it obsolete.

Over the years, the U.S. Navy has leased certain tracts of land to the central and municipal governments. According to a document provided by the U.S. Navy, the Toa Baja municipality was authorized to use the base’s access road to reach the town’s landfill. Roadway easements are also in place for the southernmost section of this tract to continue the De Diego Expressway and on the eastern side for the right-of-way required for the widening of PR866.

History of Fort Buchanan

In 1898, the U.S. Armed Forces defeated the Spanish Armada and invaded Puerto Rico. The island became an asset to the military because of its location as the gateway between the Americas and its post as a sentinel of the Mona Passage and the vessels that used it to explore future trade routes that are still in existence.

Since the 1900s, at least six major military installations have been established in Puerto Rico. Two were in the offshore municipalities of U.S. naval stations Culebra and Vieques; and the others at Ceiba’s U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads; Toa Baja’s U.S. Naval Security Group Activity Sabana Seca; Salinas’ U.S. Naval Radio Station Fort Allen; and U.S. Army Reserve Fort Buchanan. All the naval installations have been closed except Fort Allen, now an educational and support facility for the U.S. Army Reserve and the Puerto Rico National Guard, and Fort Buchanan, the only active military outpost on the island.

In 1903, Fort Buchanan was established as the first U.S. Army unit on the island. Under the command of Lt. Col. James A. Buchanan, by 1923 it occupied 300 acres on its present site. Used as a maneuver training area and range by the U.S. Army, by National Guard troops, and as a civilian military training camp from 1926 to 1930; in 1940 it was designated as Fort Buchanan and expanded to 4,500 acres over the years.

During World War II and the Korean War, Fort Buchanan housed a depot to supply the U.S. Army Antilles department. In addition, it processed local troops through its facilities, which included pier facilities, ammunition storage areas, and a railroad network that connected it to the bay. Fort Buchanan’s footprint was reduced to 746 acres at the end of World War II and remains this size today.

In 1966, Fort Buchanan was placed under the U.S. Navy after the Antilles Command was deactivated, which left about 100 personnel from the U.S. Army Command Group under the U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command in Panama. By 1971, Fort Buchanan was returned to U.S. Army Control under the Third Army. The military outpost supported the U.S. Army Reserve and tenant activities of the Reserve’s U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force, and several nonmilitary federal agencies.

From 1973 to 2002, Fort Buchanan went through several headquarter changes becoming U.S. Forces Command, U.S. Southern Command, and U.S. Army South. In 2002, it returned to U.S. Forces Command until October 2003 when it turned into a U.S. Army Reserve installation.

Strategic location

Fort Buchanan is the southernmost U.S. Army base. As the only U.S. Army Power Support Platform in the region, it is responsible for providing support not only in Puerto Rico but in the Caribbean and South America. Since 1990, Fort Buchanan’s military personnel have participated in mobilizations such as Desert Shield / Desert Storm, Bosnia, Macedonia / Kosovo, Guatemala, El Salvador, Afghanistan, and Iraq. At least 12 Latin American countries have also been part of Fort Buchanan’s Puerto Rico Reserve and U.S. National Guard building activities.

Once the units are deployed, Fort Buchanan serves as the island’s primary Family Support Center which impacts recruiting, troop morale, and mission importance. Military and nonmilitary groups cite Fort Buchanan’s support services as critical quality-of-life recruiting factors.

Base Realignment & Closure (BRAC) Process


March 15

The president submits to congressional leaders the names of nine nominees to the 2005 BRAC Commission for Senate confirmation.

May 16

Department of Defense (DOD) submits to the BRAC Commission and Congressional Defense Committees a list of bases it has selected for realignment or closure; adding bases requires the support of seven BRAC Commission members.

Sept. 8

BRAC Commission holds regional hearings and visits installations recommended for closure.

July 1

U.S. General Accounting Offices releases review of DOD recommendations.

Sept. 8

BRAC Commission sends the president a report of its findings and conclusions based on its review of DOD recommendations for his review.

Sept. 23

The president makes his final decision on the recommendations; he either sends them back to the commission for additional work, or forwards them without changes to Congress.

Oct. 20

BRAC Commission submits revised recommendations to the president, if required.

Nov. 7

The president approves or disapproves the BRAC Commission’s revised recommendations, if required, and forwards them to Congress.

45 legislative days after recommendations submitted to Congress.

The BRAC Commission recommendations go into effect unless disapproved by a joint resolution of Congress.

April 15, 2006

BRAC Commission concludes.

BRAC Criteria

Military value

  1. Impact on Department of Defense total forces’ mission capabilities and operational readiness, including impact on joint war fighting, training, and readiness.
  2. Availability and condition of land, facilities, and airspace, including training areas suitable for maneuver by ground, naval, or air forces through diversity of climates, terrains and staging areas, and for use by the armed forces in homeland defense missions at both existing and potential receiving locations.
  3. Ability to accommodate contingency mobilization, surge, and future total force requirements at both existing and potential receiving locations to support operations and training.
  4. Cost of operations and the manpower implications.

    Return on investment

  5. Extent and timing of potential costs and savings, including number of years, beginning from date of completion of closure or realignment, for the savings to exceed the costs.

    Other impacts

  6. Economic impact on existing communities near the military installations.
  7. Ability of the infrastructure of both the existing and potential receiving communities to support the forces, missions, and personnel.
  8. Environmental impact, including the costs related to potential environmental restoration, waste management, and environmental compliance activities.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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