Durbin and the troops


Dick Durbin does support the troops —  when there's money in it for his state.

(AP) — The Pentagon has yet to give Illinois' U.S. senators thousands of documents they need in order to evaluate whether proposed changes to the state's military bases make sense, Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday.
Testifying before three members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, Durbin and Sen. Barack Obama argued that the Pentagon's proposed elimination of jobs at Rock Island Arsenal and Springfield's Air National Guard base will cost taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary costs.

We need to know exactly why some of our most successful, accomplished bases have to be eliminated," said Obama, a Democrat. "Transparency is critical to this process. So far we haven't seen the transparency we would have liked."

The 163 positions that would be moved out of Springfield and 1,263 jobs that would relocate from Rock Island would go to bases that rank lower on the Pentagon's own ranking of "military value," the senators contended.

Durbin said the arsenal is "vital to our national security, and it has been for generations."

He noted that the arsenal has been adding armor to Iraq—bound Humvees. "I am certain that saved the lives of many of our soldiers," said Durbin, a Democrat.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich told the panel he worried that the proposed changes to the Springfield and Rock Island bases would make less safe the state's 11 operating nuclear power plants, the 28 locks and dams on various rivers, and several large Midwestern cities, including Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and Des Moines.

"We're here to make our case," Blagojevich told reporters after speaking in front of the panel.

While the three BRAC commissioners took testimony in St. Louis, another member of the nine—person group arrived at Springfield's Air National Guard base early Monday to tour the home of the 183rd Fighter Wing, one of the units the military wants to move out of Illinois.

Sam Skinner, the only Illinois native on the commission, took a private tour of the Springfield Air National Guard base, located at the city's public airport. After the tour, he made no promises but did compliment the work of the fighter unit and the community's support.

"I think that we can be assured ... they will get an 'A' for the mission that they're performing and how they're doing it," Skinner said at a brief news conference. "The other facilities are very good, but it's hard to beat this facility as an airport."

Dozens of people gathered at the Springfield air base to show Skinner their support for keeping the fighter unit.

For state and local leaders, convincing the nine—member commission of the value of the state's bases to the military might be their best hope for preserving a combined 2,700 targeted jobs.

In addition to the jobs in Springfield and Rock Island, the Great Lakes Naval Recruit Training Command would lose more than 2,000 positions. Illinois' only significant gain in the list is 800 positions that would be added at Scott Air Force Base.

Monday was state leaders' only face—to—face chance to plead their case to the commissioners. Historically, the commission has kept only about 85 percent of the Pentagon's plans, giving hope to officials fighting for their bases.

The Illinois delegation, which included Durbin, Obama and Blagojevich, was allotted about 2 1/2 hours to make the state's case during the St. Louis hearing, sharing part of that time with Iowa as the BRAC commissioners gathered input on closing and realignment proposals affecting seven Midwestern states.

Springfield officials also planned to attend the hearing after welcoming Skinner to the Air National Guard base. Economically, the base pumps an estimated $44.7 million into the region each year.

Ed Lasky   6 20 05