Talk of military base realignment and closure -- BRAC -- is in the air again.
The talker is none other than the secretary of defense himself, Leon Panetta.
Panetta brought up the subject Aug. 6 in his hometown of Monterey, Calif., at a meeting of the Association of Defense Communities.
"We're closing bases abroad and that's why we put forward the proposal for developing the BRAC process in our budget," Panetta told the group.
Panetta said the Pentagon must be able to divest itself of unnecessary assets if it is going to meet the budgetary challenges, which are even more acute than during the last BRAC round.
The most frequently mentioned date for the start of another BRAC round is 2015.
Greg Taylor has seen the process close-up as executive director of the BRAC Regional Task Force, which brought together 11 North Carolina counties surrounding Fort Bragg to address the challenges of change and growth for the last BRAC round. Since the passing of the BRAC deadline last year, his organization has rebranded itself as the Fort Bragg Regional Alliance and continues to address military-civilian issues.
"We should be OK in another round of BRAC, although nothing is guaranteed," Taylor said at the alliance's Dec. 7 meeting in Fayetteville.
Under the BRAC process, the Pentagon proposes a list of closings and changes to military real estate in the United States. A commission reviews the list and holds public hearings. Congress can only vote yes or no on the entire package, in theory, preventing individual members from using their clout to protect their local base, which might be a prime candidate for cost savings.
Panetta knows from experience how difficult the process can be. He was the congressman representing the Monterey area in the early 1990s when the decision was made to close Fort Ord.
"But I have no illusions here, I've been through this stuff, and I know the politics involved with BRAC," Panetta said. "It's not easy politically. But we have a responsibility to make decisions according to strategy, and we have a responsibility to put everything on the table."
They said that President George W. Bush's 2005 BRAC would be the BRAC to end all BRACs. They said the same thing about World War I.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's 2005 BRAC had a bigger emphasis than previous rounds on realigning as opposed to closing.
The very word BRAC is enough to send shudders down the spines of people who live in communities that rely heavily on the military payroll, such as Fayetteville.
The latest BRAC round, which concluded Sept. 15, 2011, brought unexpected gains and losses to Fort Bragg, which had heretofore been untouched.
The six-year process gave Fort Bragg the Forces Command and U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters, which had been in southern Atlanta.
Under the same process, Pope Air Force Base became Fort Bragg's Pope Field, A-10 attack jets departed for Georgia and the 7th Special Forces Group moved to Florida.
The base-closers are looking for places that contribute little to the military mission or have shortcomings such as civilian encroachment that hamper training or environmental restrictions.
Col. Jeff Sanborn, Fort Bragg's garrison commander, told the Dec. 7 alliance meeting that progress seems to be made on Interstate 295, an important link to coastal ports.
"The fact is, we've addressed many of the weaknesses that were hurting us leading up to BRAC 2005," Taylor said. "Back then, Fort Bragg was the largest base not connected to the interstate system. I-295, we will soon be remedying that situation."
"Will there be another BRAC or not?" Taylor said. "Some folks say absolutely not. But there were a lot more folks saying absolutely not before the election than there are now.
"Regardless of whether there is a BRAC in 2015, there will be cuts," Taylor said. "We must be informed and ready to work with our military friends."