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WASHINGTON - The chairman of the military base closure commission expressed doubts about the Pentagon's plans to close so many bases in the northeastern United States, saying he believes the military should be present in every part of the country.

Chairman Anthony Principi, during a hearing to consider adding several bases to the Pentagon's closure list, worried that the military was "virtually abandoning that section of the country."

Speaking to reporters after the hearing Tuesday, Principi described his reservations as grounded in the military's relationship with the civilian public, not in the military utility of those bases.

"I think it's important for our nation that our military and our society are close together," he said. "I think that's important for democracy. That's important for recruiting. That's important for retention. It's important for building support for our engagements overseas."

His words may give some hope to communities in Connecticut and Maine that face massive job losses in the Defense Department's effort to consolidate bases.

Some of the other commissioners nodded when Principi made his comments.

On the chopping block are two major New England bases - the submarine base at Groton, Conn., and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Pentagon officials suggest the dense population, high land prices and high cost of living in the Northeast make the region less suitable for military bases than elsewhere.

The Pentagon projects that closing the two major bases and several smaller military sites in Connecticut and Maine would mean the loss of nearly 30,000 jobs on and off the bases. Work would shift to facilities in Norfolk, Va. and Kings Bay, Ga., defense officials say.

Still, Principi and his fellow commissioners added several bases to the Pentagon's list Tuesday, including one in Maine the Pentagon had already planned to downsize drastically. Commissioners said that adding the bases would give the commission more flexibility as it considers the military's proposals.

With many of the additional bases, the commission will not be locked into the Pentagon's plan but will be able to consider alternatives to specific Pentagon proposals.

"This commission knows what it is talking about and is not a rubber stamp. We are an independent check on the power of the secretary (of defense) to close and realign military bases," Principi said of the nine-member commission.

None of the additions to the list will necessarily close; commissioners said adding them to the list was a necessary step so they could be studied. Each must be voted on again by the commission, and the final base list is subject to presidential and congressional approval.

Perhaps the largest potential shift came with a proposal to close the Navy's jet training base at Oceana, Va. Commission researchers said development in the nearby community of Virginia Beach, Va., is encroaching on pilots' ability to practice taking off and landing at all hours.

The military had considered closing the base but did not have another suitable base to send its operations. The commission will now be able to consider an array of options.

Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, the Galena Airport Forward Operation Location, Alaska, and Pope Air Force Base, N.C., were added to the list of installations facing possible closure.

With an eye on possibly merging certain administrative, educational and medical functions, the commission also voted to include several small installations in Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, California, Virginia and Washington, D.C., for consideration.

They join the list submitted by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in May that proposed closing or reducing forces at 62 major domestic bases and hundreds of smaller installations from coast to coast.

In an afternoon of votes, the commission declined to add four other facilities: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego; the Naval Shipyard at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Moody Air Force Base in Georgia; and Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

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