WASHINGTON – The Defense Department (search) on Friday proposed shutting down 33 of the 318 major military bases across the United States.
The proposal triggers the first round of base closures in a decade and kicks off an intense struggle by communities and lawmakers to save their facilities.
Aside from the 33 bases recommended for closure, another 29 based are being recommended for realignment. More than 775 other smaller military installations, including National Guard and Reserve facilities, will also be closed or realigned, according to the recommendations.
"Today's announcement is a very important component of the military transformation President Bush asked us to conduct in 2001," Michael Wynne (search), defense undersecretary for acquisition, said during a press conference Friday in announcing the recommendations.
The Pentagon's list merely comprises recommendations. The list then goes to a nine-member commission that will review it, travel to those installations and discuss the potential closings with community members.
The panel is known as the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission (search). Lawmakers likely will lobby the BRAC commission in an effort to keep some of their districts' bases open. In the end, the BRAC list must be approved by President Bush. The entire process likely will run into the fall.
Rumsfeld: '21st Century Challenges' Require Change
In four previous rounds of closures starting in 1988, BRAC commissions have accepted 85 percent of bases the Pentagon recommended for closure or consolidation.
The Pentagon's list was delivered to Capitol Hill earlier Friday morning for distribution to lawmakers.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) has said the move would save $48.8 billion over 20 years while reshaping the military for America's expected 21st century adversaries and the War on Terror.
Rumsfeld's plan calls for a massive shift of U.S. forces that would result in a net loss of 29,005 military and civilian jobs at domestic installations. Overall, he proposes pulling 218,570 military and civilian positions out of some U.S. bases while adding 189,565 positions to others. The plan would add at least 400 jobs to each of 49 domestic bases, with troops and other workers coming from other U.S. facilities or abroad.
The closures and downsizings would occur over six years starting in 2006.
"Our current arrangements, designed for the Cold War, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st century challenges," Rumsfeld said in a statement.
The BRAC process was revived in the late 1980s with the idea of cutting waste and maximizing the effectiveness of taxpayers' dollars. This is the fifth round of BRAC; the last was in 1995.
In previous rounds, 97 out of 522 major bases were closed, saving an estimated $29 billion. This year's cuts were expected to be even bigger, but U.S. military officials are planning to move some 70,000 personnel currently based in Europe and Asia back to the United States.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Friday that the president was aware of the base closures and said the administration supports the process established by the Defense Department as to what happens next.
"This is the recommendation by the secretary of defense. There is a process in place, and there are steps in the process. It will now go to the [BRAC] commission. Then it will go to the president after that," McClellan said.
McClellan said base closings are a necessary, if painful, part of transforming the military into a force matched to modern demands.
"We want to make sure that our troops, particularly those in combat, have all the resources they need to do their job," he said. But the White House, well aware of the dread in many communities, is focused on helping affected towns move on, with federal assistance available through the Defense, Labor and Commerce departments, he said.
"I think this is basically the right decision," Graham Allison, former assistant secretary for defense under President Clinton, told FOX News. "If they're not necessary for national security, we should shut them down."
Closures From Coast to Coast
New England took a major hit, and Connecticut suffered the biggest loss in terms of jobs with the proposed closure of the Submarine Base in New London, Ct. Shuttering the installation would result in the loss of 7,096 military jobs and 952 civilian jobs.
Another facility that barely made it through the previous rounds but showed up on the latest hit list was Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine, whose shutdown would affect 201 military jobs and 4,032 civilian jobs.
President Bush's home state wasn't immune from the chopping block. Texas is slated to lose 15 facilities. In addition to Naval Station Ingleside, the Red River Army Depot and several Reserve and Guard installations are on the hit list.
New Jersey's Fort Monmouth is also slated for closure, triggering an angered Democratic Rep. Rush Holt to vow to "Fight like hell to change it. I'm not about to let the Pentagon's error put the fort and the soldiers it serves in harm's way."
Pennsylvania would lose 13 facilities, including the Naval Air Station at Willow Grove, while Alabama and California — the state hit hardest in the previous four rounds of closures — are to see 11 installations apiece shuttered, mostly affecting Reserve and Guard units and Defense Department accounting offices. New York is to lose nine.
Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico also could lose more than 2,700 jobs, the Naval Station in Ingleside, Texas, costing more than 2,100 jobs, and Fort McPherson in Georgia, costing nearly 4,200 jobs.
New Mexico stands to lose Cannon Air Force Base, which would cost the area 2,385 military jobs and 384 civilian jobs. That doesn't include costs to the surrounding communities. A separate study last year said closing Cannon would cost Curry County alone $98 million annually.
"It'll kill Clovis," said Linda Hanks, manager of a Dairy Queen there. "We don't have any industry here. We rely on the base. Probably 75 percent of our business comes from the base. That's not only us, it's every business in town."
Other major bases — including the Army's Fort Bliss in Texas, the Naval Shipyard in Norfolk, Va., and Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland — would see gains, as they absorb troops whose current home bases are slated for closure.
"I think we have quite a few bases that may be closed in addition to what we have here," Ret. U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen Burton Moore told FOX News. "After the Berlin Wall fell and after the fall of the Soviet Union, we reaped the peace dividends and we reaped it again after the Gulf War I" when the United States was able to reduce its structure due to fairly peaceful times.
"There's been a drawdown" but not enough of one, he added.
Also among the major closures is the Naval Station in Pascagoula, Miss. (search), which barely survived previous base closure rounds. The decision was a blow to Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who had fought the 1995 round of closures. At stake are 844 military jobs and 112 civilian jobs.
"I opposed the BRAC process at its initiation because it represents a cop-out by the Congress of its duties," Lott said in a statement. "I continue to dislike the process and the fact that any Mississippi facilities are on today's closure list. That being said, I'm breathing a sign of relief for those facilities that weren't on the list."
Base closings represent a high-stakes political fight, because they affect jobs in congressional districts.
When a U.S. military installation shuts down, its officers and their families are uprooted and relocated to facilities elsewhere, leaving holes in customer bases of local businesses.
"Affected communities will be offered support and assistance through the Office of Economic Adjustment following the completion of the process," Wynne said.
For years, the military has operated more bases than it needs for the 1.4 million troops on active duty. Congress has refused to authorize a new round of base closings since 1995 but reluctantly signed off on the idea last year after President Bush threatened to veto an entire spending bill.
Lawmakers say it is unwise to close bases while U.S. troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Pentagon argues that the timing is perfect to enlist cost-cutting measures given pressures from the ballooning federal deficit and to reshuffle the stateside network of bases while it reshapes the entire military.
Closures in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 eliminated or realigned 451 installations, including 97 major ones, resulted in a net savings to the government of about $18 billion through 2001. The Pentagon projects recurring annual savings of $7.3 billion from those four rounds combined.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel and Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.