American Enterprise Online
May 18, 2005
By Alan W. Dowd
After a ten-year hiatus, the Base Realignment and Closure process is back. Pentagon leaders say they are using this round of realignment to spur transformation, promote joint activity among the branches, enhance surge capacity, trim costs, shed obsolete facilities and (it appears) offload some lingering headaches: As Government Executive magazine reported when the BRAC-2005 criteria were released back in late 2003, “The efficiency and operational necessity of military bases won't be the only factors under consideration as the Pentagon weighs closure and consolidation decisions. Another factor will be what happens outside the walls of bases.”
In other words, the Pentagon is increasingly mindful of how much it costs to keep the neighbors happy. With the landscape surrounding its facilities dwindling away and the number of regulations that impinge upon its ability to train mushrooming, the military faces an increasing number of obstacles at home as it prepares for war abroad. As Pentagon BRAC specialist Raymond DuBois told Government Executive, these and other issues of “encroachment”—a catchall term referring to any factor that limits or interferes with the Armed Forces’ ability to train for war—could play a role in determining which bases will close.
I have no idea how many of the 180 facilities put on the chopping block by BRAC-2005 are there because of encroachment headaches. But even if it’s just one, it’s regrettable. We shouldn’t force those who defend us to defend their own training grounds. (Nor should we blame the Pentagon for making a virtue out of necessity by putting an end to certain encroachment headaches.)
Causes and Consequences
Encroachment is a relatively new phenomenon, mainly because it is a symptom of a relatively new trend: urbanization around bases. Until recently, most military bases were purposely located in remote areas, far away from cities and suburbs. That left military training out of sight and out of mind for most Americans. As cities and suburbs grew, however, their populations began to discover that training for war is a messy, noisy business. Yet instead of adjusting to the military, suburbanites began to demand that the military adjust to them.
If waging and deterring war wasn’t such a serious matter, the causes and consequences of encroachment would be laughable:
-In 1997, an EPA regional office ordered the Army to stop using lead ammunition, explosives, propellants and demolition materials at a DoD facility in Massachusetts, citing the Safe Drinking Water Act. The troops were then forced to train with biodegradable “green ammunition” rather than the real stuff.
-The Public Affairs office at Luke AFB in Arizona was forced to post the following on its website: “Luke pilots are acutely aware of the impact of our operations on the quality of life of our neighbors. We want to be good neighbors and have made a number of changes to our operating procedures and flight paths to reduce the noise impacts as our pilots depart and return from training areas. Aircraft noise over neighboring communities can vary significantly as a result of cloud cover, wind speed and direction and humidity. Although most of our F-16 training sorties take place during the day, we do routinely fly at night. We need to train the way we fight and the nature of aerial combat requires our pilots to fly at night and in any weather. In deference to our neighbors, we plan for most night training missions [to] return to Luke AFB by 10 p.m.”
-One of the reasons a B-1B unit withdrew from Dobbins AFB was noise restrictions in and around Atlanta.
-A 17-mile ribbon of Interstate 5 separates Camp Pendleton’s amphibious landing beaches from its inland training facilities.
-Environmentalists have used the Endangered Species Act to protect woodpeckers at Forts Bragg, Polk, Stewart, Benning, Jackson and Gordon. In fact, at Camp Lejuene and Fort Bragg, troops have had to tiptoe around trees marked with ribbons, an indication that endangered woodpeckers have been seen nearby.
-At Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, activists convinced state officials to block the Army from deploying fog oil during nighttime training. And daytime use of fog oil has been limited to short increments. Fog oil is a critical component of combat training because it generates the smoke screens used to conceal large-scale battlefield movements. No matter. According to the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, “Military personnel are being trained to detonate weapons of mass destruction in the Missouri Ozarks...These weapons include nerve gas and other chemical weapons, biological weapons (germ warfare), and radioactive materials. In addition, thousands of gallons of fog oil are released into the air throughout the year for obscurant training.” Not exactly. In fact, the mission of Fort Leonard Wood’s Chemical School is “To protect the force and allow the Army to fight and win against a [nuclear-biological-chemical] threat. Develop doctrine, equipment and training for NBC defense which serve as a deterrent to any adversary possessing weapons of mass destruction. [And] provide the Army with the combat multipliers of smoke, obscurant and flame capabilities.” In other words, Fort Leonard Wood is training our troops to fight and defeat those who would detonate WMDs.
-Before every training sortie at the Goldwater Air Force Range in Arizona, target areas are scoured for pronghorn antelopes. If an antelope is present, the entire target area is declared off limits. The Sierra Club’s magazine offers this patronizing commentary: “Sometimes GIs fail in their map-reading exercises in the adjacent Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, and end up stuck either in Cabeza Prieta or Sonora, Mexico. These off-road exploits disrupt calving for the dwindling herds of pronghorn, as do the Air Force’s practice bombing runs north of the refuge that cause flash fires where pronghorn and bighorn roam. A bombing range/endangered-species habitat was not what natural-resource managers had in mind when they coined the term ‘multiple use.’” Of course, I imagine that conducting daily safaris while maintaining a nature preserve was not what the Pentagon had in mind when it opened the base.
Contrary to green activists, the military isn’t the cause of the endangered species on and around its facilities. As cities expand, animal life naturally migrates to undeveloped lands. Since training for modern warfare requires vast, open spaces, the military happens to control much of what remains of America’s undeveloped territory. While base commanders don’t mind sharing, many of them can’t help but wonder why they are left holding the environmental bill for the civilian community’s appetite for consumption and development.
And contrary to the NIMBY crowd and suburban elites who argue that national security can’t be compromised by turning down those noisy jet engines or limiting training to regular business hours, there are very real national-security consequences to encroachment. Above all, encroachment prevents U.S. troops from “training the way we fight,” a critical component of U.S. military doctrine. As we have been reminded since September 11, wars are not fought in 15-minute increments; and they aren’t won with green ammo or quiet jet engines.
I attended a college-football game with my family on that first weekend America tried to return to normalcy after the attacks on New York and Washington. There was a sense of comfort in being able to distract ourselves, if just for a few hours, from what had happened 18 days earlier. But then, halfway through the second quarter, something distracted us from our distraction.
The first thing we noticed was the noise, as the usual stadium cacophony of bass drums and cheers and public-address announcements was drowned out by a distant roar. The roar grew louder as two tiny black specks on the far horizon were transformed into sobering silhouettes of military might. In an instant, a pair of fighter-jets screamed through the skies just south of the stadium. At first, there was an unrehearsed ballet of 65,000 heads turning skyward, then a collective gasp, then that same distant roar, as the warplanes sliced across the other horizon and arced back toward the stadium. This was no ceremonial flyover—this was a combat air patrol.
The display jolted all of us back to the awful reality of our post-September 11 world. At once ominous and reassuring, it was a reminder not just of how much the country had changed, but of how much we depend on the military to protect us.
After a minute or so, the planes landed at a nearby airstrip to refuel, and we nervously turned our attention back to the game. Needless to say, no one complained about the noise.