SC military bases working to stay funded amid defense cuts

Members of the Military Base Task Force met Wednesday to discuss ways to prevent losing military bases in the future.

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Military bases bring more than 140 thousand jobs to South Carolina, and many people want to make sure the state stays home to those bases during times of Pentagon budget cuts.

South Carolina did well in the last round of cuts and realignments in 2005, actually adding people and jobs, but a previous BRAC -- or Base Realignment and Closure -- took away the Charleston Navy Shipyard. Members of the Military Base Task Force met Wednesday to discuss ways to prevent losing other bases in the future.

"We're hopeful that we won't be faced with another loss like that in a future BRAC, and so our effort is to try to put ourselves in as positive a position as we can," said Bill Bethea, chairman of the South Carolina Military Base Task Force.

While Congress has not approved the date for the next BRAC, it is expected in 2015 or 2017. Bethea compares the fight between military communities to maintain defense funding to a beauty contest.

"We're going to be graded on how well we take care of our military bases and their personnel once we get into the process of a BRAC," said Bethea.

Reduced staffing, pay and maintenance funding due to sequestration are already making it more difficult for bases such as Shaw Air Force Base to prepare against a future BRAC.

"Sequestration is alive and well at Shaw Air Force Base," said Steve Creech, who represents Shaw on the Military Base Task Force. "We've got one fighter squadron that's been stood down...and when I say stood down, these folks are not flying airplanes, so the maintainers aren't maintaining airplanes."

Fort Jackson is also facing concerns as furloughs begin to take effect this summer.

"The way that this thing is set up is that a person can not get overtime pay nor compensatory time, so a person could work a little overtime, but they're not gonna get paid for it," said George Goldsmith, who represents Fort Jackson and McEntire Joint National Guard Base on the Military Base Task Force. "So this is something we hope is not going to affect the operation every day."

The task force discussed at its Wednesday meeting a greater chance of seeing cuts and realignments when the next BRAC comes, due to an increased military focus on the Pacific coast and Asia. According to Bethea, bases in South Carolina would look toward a more reserve-forces mission, with fewer deployments, as active duty forces would be moved to the west coast.