Base Closings and the South

A Special Report from Facing South and the Institute for Southern Studies

The Pentagon announced today its much-anticipated list of recommended base closures -- 180 military installations in all, a move the Department of Defense says will save almost $50 billion over 20 years.

But while the national news is of gloom and doom, with communities gearing up to fight for hometown bases on which they have come to depend, the story for the South is one of increasing its share of military bases and heightening its stake in the military economy.

The South has historically been home to a disproportionate share of military installations. While the region holds under a third of the nation's population, in the Institute's last analysis in 2002, 56% of troops nationally were stationed in the South. Anchored in base-rich states like Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia, this has led to a network of "military towns" like Fort Bragg, N.C. (expertly described in Dr. Catherine Lutz's excellent book, "Homefront") which exert a powerful political, economic and cultural influence in the region.

Given the South's dependence on military towns, the Pentagon's list of proposed closings was highly anticipated in the region. But while the South would lose 62 of the 180 installations slated for closure, the region as a whole stands to gain from the Pentagon's first major base realignment in a decade:

*** While the Pentagon calls for net cut of 26,000 military and civilian personnel at U.S. bases, the South stands to gain a net total of 15,500 positions at over 50 bases that will grow in stature. Five of the top 10 states in base growth are located in the South.

*** Big gainers in the South include Georgia, where military and civilian base jobs will expand by 7,423; Texas (6,150); Arkansas (3,585); Florida (2,757); and Alabama (2,664).

*** The three biggest individual base expansions in the country would be in Virginia (Fort Belvoir, which would add 11,858 military and civilian jobs), Texas (Fort Bliss, 11,501), and Georgia (Fort Benning, 9,839).

*** Southern states that would lose under the plan are Kentucky, with five closures amounting to a net loss of over 5,500 personnel, and Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia, which each have over 1,000 jobs at stake. The three Mississippi closures are a blow to Sen. Trent Lott (R), who had successfully used his clout to fend off closures in the Magnolia State in 1995.

*** States that are slated to experience a wash in terms of net job gains and losses may still see big changes. North Carolina's Fort Bragg, for example, is being tapped to grow by 4,325 personnel -- 4,078 active military -- a dramatic expansion that will be offset by a net cut of 4,145 at Pope Air Force Base just down the road.

As with past base closings, the Pentagon's announcement will open a new round of debate about the political motivations behind the decisions, as well as provoke community discussion about the pros and cons of fighting to keep military bases. As Dr. Lutz notes, while installations generate economic activity -- including on-base jobs with good pay and equal opportunity -- they also undercut revenues through their tax-exempt status, exert control over community affairs, and are prone to volatile economic swings as troops come and go.

You can read a complete table of the proposed closures here.