By Chuck Crumbo
Published Feb. 7, 2012
With another round of base closings looming on the horizon, a state panel charged with looking out for the state’s military communities appears ready to go to work.
The South Carolina Military Base Task Force has been revived and is expected to hold its first meeting in more than a year around mid-February, an official said. (Photo/Provided)
“It’s ramping up right now,” Holly said.
The state’s base boosters are on high alert because the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, facing the possibility of having to trim up to $1 trillion from the Pentagon over the next 10 years, has suggested that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, commonly referred to as BRAC, be revived.
At a Jan. 26 Pentagon briefing, Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey revealed that next year’s budget request would include $47 billion in cuts, and offered a strategy that would trim $489 billion from the armed services budget over the next 10 years.
But the total amount of defense budget cuts could double. When the fiscal year 2012 budget was adopted, Congress agreed on a provision that called on a super committee to find $1 trillion worth of cuts across the federal budget by Nov. 23. The committee failed and those cuts are to kick in automatically, with the Pentagon’s share totaling $500 billion on top of the $489 billion that the Obama administration has proposed.
The state military task force, created in 2003, did not meet during the first year of Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration. It wasn’t until Dec. 22 that Haley issued an executive order to reconstitute the panel.
The task force will compromise more than two dozen members representing the South Carolina’s military communities, as well as the Adjutant General, Department of Commerce, Governor’s office of Veterans Affairs and Legislature. The panel is coordinated through the Comptroller General’s office.
During the last round of base closings in 2005, the task force brought together community leaders to share and coordinate information. After BRAC, the panel met regularly through 2010.
Finding ways to support their local bases also is good business for community leaders. That’s because military installations in Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia and Sumter combine for an annual economic impact of $13 billion.
While having the task force back in business is important, local base boosters said they’ve kept up their own efforts to support military installations.
“We’re ready for the state to lead,” said Ike McLeese, of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. “But we’re not going to wait. We never quit.”
What communities have learned from previous BRACs is that they need to stay in contact with both leaders of their local bases as well as plugging into what’s happening in Washington.
It’s also important for the state’s political leaders to meet with commanders of military units and hear from them first-hand about what their bases need, said Mary Graham, of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
So far Haley has yet to meet with commanders at Charleston’s Navy and Air Force bases, Graham said.
“She needs to hear their issues. It’s important for her to do so,” Graham said.
Issues affecting bases can range from community support for the troops to development around an installation. For example, Graham said the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments has recently updated its land-use policy to ensure that the bases can carry out their mission.
The Pentagon also may consider the relationship that the community has with the local base.
How a community treats service members is important, McLeese said.
Since 2008, Columbia city leaders have maintained a covenant with Fort Jackson. Part of the covenant offers special considerations to military families, especially when a loved one is deployed.
City leaders also opened an Armed Forces Lounge at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The lounge later became a USO facility.