BRAC Commissioner Visits Coast

A member of the BRAC commission spent the day Thursday visiting military bases in both Pascagoula and Biloxi.

The Secretary of Defense recommends closing Naval Station Pascagoula and converting Keesler Medical Center into an out patient facility.

Retired Admiral Harold Gehman Jr. described his visit as the next step in a lengthy process. He spent about four hours touring Naval Station Pascagoula in the morning, followed by a three hour afternoon tour of Keesler Medical Center.

"We're now in the process of understanding the other side of the story," said Commissioner Gehman, shortly after he finished the Keesler tour.

Gehman says he and his fellow BRAC commissioners are visiting the 75 military facilities targeted for cutback or closure. He was quite impressed by his first visit to Keesler Medical Center.

"It's a magnificent facility. It would take a very, you have to be a very serious and sober decision to change what it does. But on the other hand, the military is getting smaller. And getting smaller is always tough," he said.

Commissioner Gehman says he must determine if the Defense Secretary's proposal to realign the medical center meets the guidelines of the law that outlines criteria for evaluating bases.

"Number one, two and three is military value. If they can demonstrate that it's better to have a smaller number of big hospitals where they produce doctors, then they will have met their criteria," he explained.

The commissioner says Naval Station Pascagoula faces an even bigger challenge with that criteria.

"He evaluated the military value of Naval Station Pascagoula as extraordinarily low."

"You can make the argument that it's better off to move those forces to bases where they have a higher military value. Now our job is to ascertain whether that's correct or not," Commissioner Gehman said.

Following the site visits, the BRAC commission will then get further input from a series of regional public hearings, including one in New Orleans.

"When the public hearing comes, you can expect the local elected officials are going to raise all kinds of objections, all of which we'll have to look into," he said.

The regional public hearing for the coast facilities is in New Orleans next month. The BRAC commission will release its recommendations in early September.