Sunday, April 29, 2012

What's best for Shaw Air Force Base? - Sumter Item

Those that follow military issues may have read where Congress and even the United States Air Force have suggested the need for at least one more BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure), maybe even two, in the next several years. Some leaders in the Air Force have even suggested that they have as much as a 25 percent surplus in capacity as well.

Our own Shaw Air Force Base has been through BRACs in 1991, 1993, 1995 and the most recent one in 2005. We have been very fortunate to have not only avoided the closing of our base but fortunate enough to have gained a mission with the addition of the Third Army Headquarters. Most of our successes can be based on just two criteria: excellent facilities and a strong mission.

We have been the home to the largest F-16 fighter contingent in the United States and the only Air Force base on the East Coast with dual runways. In the past, we have bragged that we are the home of the 9th Air Force and AFCENT (Air Force Central Command). Now, after the 2005 BRAC, we can boast that we are also the home of the Third Army and ARCENT (Army Central Command).

The Third Army and ARCENT came to Shaw as a result of the 2005 BRAC with the intent to co-locate two of the Air Force's and Army's most historic units at one place for training, education, familiarization, cooperation and collaboration. These units have fought beside one another since the Normandy invasion with current responsibilities that include CENTCOM (Central Command) and the Middle East.

In September 2009 Gen. Norton Schwartz (19th chief of staff of the Air Force) decided to move the AFCENT commander, a three- star general, "forward" to the war zone where that commander would reside. Leaders in the Sumter community immediately contacted congressmen and senators to voice our concerns with this move. It was during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Schwartz assured Sen. Lindsey Graham that he would return the "three-star flag" back to Shaw at the end of the war. At the time of the announcement, the date was to be 2014.

We have often expressed concern that this move was a violation of the intent of BRAC which was to locate AFCENT and ARCENT at the same military installation. After all, the commander of the Third Army resides right here in Sumter with this family.

In the early fall of 2012, the president of the United States will appoint a new chief of staff of the Air Force. Some of us in our community have expressed our continued concern to Graham, and he continues to ensure us it's on his "agenda and radar."

We feel it is time for the S.C. Congressional Delegation to demand and receive a firm public commitment, with a date, by the leadership of the Air Force to rejoin 9th Air Force and AFCENT command structures and to relocate the units back at Shaw. With the uncertainly in the current Department of Defense budgets, it only makes sense that with the facilities already existing here at Shaw (a $20 million expansion is currently under way on the AFCENT building) that the units be relocated back here. The expense of trying to duplicate an operation center in a foreign country is not necessary anymore. Additionally, these military folks and their families are living in high risk zones.

We are hoping Graham, Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Mick Mulvaney will step up and get us a firm date when the AFCENT flag will return home to Shaw. It's time to bring the AFCENT command, the flag and, most importantly, the families back to Sumter and Shaw.

Jack Osteen is publisher of The Item newspaper. He also serves as vice chair of the Sumter Military Affairs Committee.

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