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Pope, Seymour Johnson Await Commission Votes

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POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — The federal commission studying base realignment will not take any action on key facilities until Friday. That means one more day of waiting at Pope Air Force Base and nearby Fort Bragg.
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    The Pentagon wants to shut down the base and turn it into an Army airfield and move its major Air Force units to bases in Arkansas and Georgia. It also wants to bring in reservists and guardsmen.

    Many local leaders are fighting the recommendation, arguing that airborne troops based at Fort Bragg need to work closely with Air Force units that carry them into battle. With Pope nearby, soldiers from Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division, leaders say, can be deployed anywhere in the world in just 18 hours.

    Even with highly trained part-time reservists and guardsmen, North Carolina leaders are still concerned that the 82nd Airborne Division would suffer.

    "They're the ones who are deployed, whether it's Haiti or Grenada or Iraq or Afghanistan," said Gov. Mike Easley. "They're the ones that go first, and we want to make sure that there is an air support operation here that is as good as the 82nd."

    Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Springer, who is a military consultant for WRAL-TV, believes reservists and guardsmen can do the job, but he sees a different problem.

    "If there's something that happens tonight, that we need an immediate response to, it takes time to get guardsmen and reservists on site," Springer said. "Not so with an active-duty unit. They're there already? They're there and they're ready to go."

    The commission, which has already at Fort Bragg, is expected to make its decision by Friday.

    On Thursday morning, the commission voted to shut down Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. One of the best-known military medical centers, Walter Reed has been the site of treatment for presidents and foreign leaders, as well as veterans and soldiers.

    The commission also endorsed a recommendation to close three military reserve centers in North Carolina, including a naval reserve center in Asheville and an Armed Forces reserve center in Albemarle in Stanly County. The commission also wants to shut down an older Armed Forces reserve center in Wilmington and then build a new one in its place.

    The U.S. Army Research Office in Durham, which employs 113 civilians and one military personnel, will remain open, the commission decided. It voted to reject a Pentagon proposal to close the office, as well as Army and Navy research facilities and the in Arlington, Va., and relocate them to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

    The federal commission is considering the Pentagon's proposal to restructure hundreds of U.S. military bases. President Bush can accept or reject the commission's final report of recommendations in its entirety, or send it back to the commission for revisions.

    Congress can also veto the commission's plan, something it has not done in four previous rounds of base closures.


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