Coast business leaders gear up to fight BRAC

Coast business leaders gear up to fight BRAC
The commanders and civilians all agree that the connection between the bases and the coast goes beyond dollars and cents. (Photo source: WLOX)
The commanders and civilians all agree that the connection between the bases and the coast goes beyond dollars and cents. (Photo source: WLOX)

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - BRAC - It's a simple name, but it stands for something much more complicated, base realignment and closure. Congress has ordered it to begin in 2017. For Pascagoula, however, it has happened before -- in 2006 when the Naval Station was shuttered.

Business leaders don't want history to repeat itself. Kimberly Nastasi is the CEO of the Jackson County Coast Chamber. "It's the men and women who live here; it's the businesses that support the military initiatives,"  said Nastasi. "The military is the Gulf Coast, so it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to mobilize against BRAC,"

Military leaders are not permitted to talk about BRAC at public meetings. When South Mississippi's military commanders met with the Coast Chamber, their speeches focused on base mission, and not closure talk.

The commander of Combat Readiness and Training Center in Gulfport is Lt. Col. Berry McCormick. His talk opened eyes, because he referenced some struggles at the CRTC. "In 2015, the CRTC took significant manpower cuts," explained McCormick. "And the future of the Gulfport CRTC seemed in serious doubt."

The 403rd Reserve Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, where Col. Frank Amodeo is commander, hasn't been immune either. "We are dealing with sequestration, and we're dealing with the effects of that," Amodeo said. "That's taking a toll. We're doing our best to make sure that toll isn't on readiness."

While it's easy to pinpoint the economic value of the military bases to the coast, which totals $1.7 billion a year at Keesler alone, the connection between the military officials and the coast community is even more important.

That relationship is even more valuable, according to the commander of the Seabee Base, Capt. Cheryl Hanson. "It's how embedded we are in the community," said Hanson. "As well as how important this community support is to the long term sustainability of the base."

In these days of doing more with less, the military is no different. That's the opinion of Keesler commander Col. Michele Edmonson. "We still live in a world of constrained resources, and so it's even more important today to make sure we're prioritizing how we're going to spend the money, and they are difficult decisions," said Edmonson. "When we're talking about how to get the mission done and how do we pay the bills to take care of our airmen. We have to make the hard decisions with the money that we're given."

Those decisions could ensure the future of the coast bases for years to come.

At this time, there's been no indication that any of the bases on the coast have been targeted for closure or cutbacks, but chamber officials stress you can never be certain that won't change.

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