Hunter urges local leaders to fight to keep NAF off closure list

January 24, 2002|By JENNIFER SARANOW, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — After meeting with President Bush on Wednesday to urge more military spending, Rep. Duncan Hunter called on Imperial Valley military and community leaders to organize a lobbying effort to keep open Naval Air Facility El Centro.

"We've been through four rounds of base closings but there's going to be another round so it's important that we work together to put together a game plan to convince the administration that the Imperial Valley base is the most cost-effective aircraft training ground in America, which I think it is," said the congressman, who is chairman of the House Military Research and Development Subcommittee.

Hunter and several other congressmen met with President Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday to urge a $50 billion increase in military spending, specifically in the areas of equipment, training, ammunition and pay.

Their proposals would bring the defense budget for fiscal 2003 to $393 billion from $343 billion.


Shortly after Hunter's meeting in the White House, Bush announced at a luncheon of the Reserve Officers Association that he would ask Congress for $48 billion more in military spending for the upcoming year.

Hunter responded that he was pleased with the president's proposal, but added he and his staff are still trying to get details of the planned spending.

"The announcement that he is going to increase defense dramatically was very good news, but it's still unclear how much of that actually goes to the armed services and how much to homeland defense agencies such as the FBI," Hunter said. "President Bush said it's his No. 1 priority to have a strong national defense and he said he's going to maintain that even if it brings us into deficit spending so we were encouraged by his words."

Bush's proposed military spending increase would bring the federal budget to $2 trillion, with a deficit of roughly $100 billion. The total Pentagon budget would be around $380 billion.

Even if Congress approves the additional military spending for the next fiscal year, the 2002 defense authorization bill that Bush signed into law in late December stipulates a realignment and closure of unneeded military facilities.

"Such realignments and closure will allow the government to use more effectively the taxpayer sources devoted to the national defense," Bush said when he signed the act. "As the act requires, military value will be the primary consideration in recommending realignments and closures."

Hunter, who represents the Imperial Valley, said he hopes he and other Valley residents can persuade the president that El Centro's base, winter home of the Blue Angels, has indispensable military value.

"In my estimation, we need to be careful not to eliminate bases that we would need if we went into another major war like World War II. We have to have the space where you could go into a large training operation in a very short period of time," Hunter said, adding favorable weather in the Imperial Valley allows pilots to fly nearly 365 days a year.

While Bush said he regretted the start of the base closure and realignment process would not occur for several years, Hunter said the delay would give Imperial County leaders the time they need to make their case. He said he expects meetings of Imperial Valley leaders to be taking place over the next month or two.

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