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Politicians Host Summit To Discuss Potential Base Closings

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley and Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue hosted more than 400 state, local and military leaders at Thursday's North Carolina Military Summit at Fort Bragg.

The event focused on educating leaders about the economic importance of the military to North Carolina and the impending restructuring of the military as part of the 2005

Base Realignment and Closure Act.

"We must do all that we can to protect our bases and expand our core missions," Perdue said. "Today marks the beginning of thinking creatively and bringing innovative solutions to the table to add value to our bases and emphasize North Carolina's unwavering commitment to the military."

Said Easley: "North Carolina is the most military-friendly state in the nation, and I am committed to continuing that tradition. Our state is extremely proud of its relationship with the military and of the tremendous role our military bases play in the defense of our nation and of our freedom."

The summit featured Charles Smith, former executive director and special assistant to the chairman of the 1995 Defense Base Closure and Re-Alignment Commission.

Smith addressed the impact of base closings on local, regional and state economies and a panel discussion focusing on securing more defense-spending procurement opportunities for North Carolina.

The Pentagon is required to present by May 2005 a list of bases it recommends for closure or realignment.

Smith said no base in North Carolina should be considered immune to the possibility of closing.

"Can I say for an assurance that Fort Bragg would never be closed?" he said. "No, I can't tell you that."

No one in attendance at the summit wants to consider that possibility.

"Our military economy has growth potential," Perdue said. "The military provides good, stable jobs in difficult economic times, and North Carolina provides a great environment for possible expansion."

North Carolina has the third-largest active-duty military population in the United States and is home to five military bases: Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Wayne County, Camp Lejeune in Onslow County, the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, in Craven County, Fort Bragg in Cumberland County, and Pope Air Force Base in Cumberland County.

The bases employ more than 150,000 personnel, both military and civilian, and provide a direct economic impact of more than $10 billion.

"For some reason, the military has never been considered as anindustry for North Carolina," said Hugh Overholt of New Bern, aretired Army general and a member of a state advisory commission onmilitary affairs. "Actually it is. It needs to be cared for like any other industry."

Pentagon officials have said they want the coming round of baseclosings to be as big as the previous four rounds of the 1990s, inwhich 97 major domestic bases were selected for closure. Pentagonofficials have said up to one quarter of the nation's 425 bases areunneeded.

North Carolina ranks only behind California and Texas in numbersof troops, and its bases pump more than $9 billion a year into thestate's economy, Perdue's office said.

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