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The sky is not falling

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As the north country prepares for winter, the annual concerns about base closures find their way here from Washington.

The latest comes from comments made at the annual Association of the United States Army conference in Washington. An assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment warned that Congress will eventually authorize another round of Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC.

The north country delegation also heard Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno say the timeline has been moved up to inactivate the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team by fiscal year 2015 rather than 2017.

These are not dire warnings. The possibility of another BRAC round is speculation and faces a myriad of political challenges, not the least of which is Washington’s inability to make hard decisions, thus proving to those of us back home that it is incapable of governing.

The time table on the brigade combat time sounds worse than it is. Part of the deactivation of the team is the announced expansion of the remaining two brigades stationed at Drum. The net result will be a loss of about 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers.

While none of us want to see the complement of soldiers reduced, the north country recognizes that substantially more soldiers than that have been deployed continuously to Afghanistan and Iraq for 12 years now. Immediately after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, the division was sent to Afghanistan despite the fact that during the previous decade it had been the most deployed Army unit serving in Iraq, Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia.

The initial deployment to Afghanistan led to continuous deployments lasting as long as 15 months each through this year. We have not hosted the entire division once since 2001.

During the time the division has been defending American interests overseas, this community has worked hard to make sure that all the troops assigned to the division will have adequate housing when they return. Even with a reduction of 1,500 soldiers assigned to the division, we still have not met the housing need.

As these 12 years of war wind down, the north country will continue to feel the stress of enough housing for the civilian and military population.

While the community needs to be cognizant of future BRAC rounds, its primary focus needs to continue to encourage construction of enough housing to bring the vacancy rate to a point where there is market stability. Today’s very low vacancy rates lead to constant upward pressure on rents. Higher rents affect the civilians more than the soldiers, who are protected by indexed housing allowances.

And the community needs to make a case to ensure that Fort Drum is selected as the home of an anti-ballistic missile base. The Department of Defense needs to know that the north country is ready to accept the federal investment needed to guarantee that the northeastern United States is protected from rogue missiles delivered by newly emboldened governments in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

Yes, we should worry about BRAC. But we must carry on with ambitious plans to build new housing, rehabilitate old housing and to locate a new multi-billion dollar missile defense facility at Fort Drum.

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