Advocates: Merge fort into planned megabase

Gaffney leads charge to add fort to Dix, McGuire AFB, Lakehurst


Staff Writer

Merging Fort Monmouth with a planned megabase less than 25 miles away could save the Pentagon millions of dollars and make more sense than moving its technical operations south to Aberdeen, Md., according to a contingent of base advocates.

The bipartisan panel of political leaders and military experts pitched the idea of including the 1,100-acre Fort Monmouth, which the Pentagon has targeted for shutdown under its Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, into the “megabase” planned for three other New Jersey installations, during Friday morning’s regional hearing in Towson, Md., on the Defense Department proposal.

Addressing the independent federal BRAC commission during the hearing on the Pentagon’s recommendations staged at Goucher College, Towson, the New Jersey contingent praised the Defense Department’s proposal to merge Fort Dix, McGuire Air Force Base, and Lakehurst Naval Air Station, all located next to each other in Burlington and Ocean counties.

Adding Fort Monmouth, located approximately 23 miles away from the three other installations and sharing testing grounds, resources, and a single commanding general and garrison, would be more cost-effective than moving the entire Monmouth County base’s communications and electronics command (CECOM) to the Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Ground, various members of the New Jersey group pointed out during the more-than-two-hour hearing.

Such a merger, in which Fort Monmouth would operate as a “sub-installation” of the three larger bases, would meet the Pentagon’s criteria for jointness between the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force while saving the predicted $2 billion cost of moving CECOM to the proving ground more than two hours away, said retired Vice Admiral Paul G. Gaffney II, who testified before the BRAC commissioners.

Gaffney, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on New Jersey Military Bases and president of Monmouth University, presented a 35-minute briefing to back up the contingent’s recommendation.

Military consultant Robert Giordano, retired from the U.S. Army at Fort Monmouth, co-presented the extensive report, a key component of the contingent’s testimony.

Essentially, the Pentagon has ignored its own list of criteria for restructuring the nation’s military bases by targeting Fort Monmouth for closure, both Gaffney and Giordano told the commissioners.

The “military value” that the Pentagon aims to achieve by conducting the BRAC process lies within Fort Monmouth’s command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions (known collectively as C4ISR), Gaffney said.

“Hundreds” of Fort Monmouth civilian engineers and scientists have visited Iraq to evaluate the electronic equipment used by soldiers in the field, he continued.

However, a Harris Poll taken since the Pentagon’s May 13 announcement that Fort Monmouth would close under BRAC, found that only 20 percent of those civilian workers, including the engineers and scientists working in C4ISR, would transfer to the Aberdeen Proving Ground with their jobs.

Though the Pentagon had originally stated that moving Fort Monmouth’s missions to the larger Maryland base would create a one-time cost of $822 million, that figure could actually total between $2 billion and $4 billion when the costs of hiring and training a new civilian workforce is added in, Gaffney stressed.

“There is a shrinking pool of scientists and engineers in the United States,” said Gaffney, adding that many cannot be cleared for defense work.

Senior staffers would leave or retire once the proposed fort closure began, said Giordano, citing the poll results. Many junior and middle-management workers would probably soon follow, he added.

“There would only be 50 percent capability to start at Aberdeen, with junior managers leading the way,” Giordano said. “It would take 10 years to get back up to speed.”

At more than 7,000 acres, Aberdeen might have more land for testing weapons than Fort Monmouth, but it lacks the facilities to house C4ISR functions, Gaffney continued.

“[The Pentagon] did not consider that Aberdeen has no joint C4ISR capability,” he said.

Pentagon officials have argued that Fort Monmouth has limited testing ability, but to an extent so does Aberdeen, which tries out some weapons at an Arizona Army base, Gaffney remarked.

“Aberdeen’s formal testing and evaluation is done at Yuma, Arizona,” he said.

Weapons testing could be done at Fort Dix if Fort Monmouth is merged into the megabase configuration, a move that would ultimately retain C4ISR in an area with a high concentration of scientists and engineers, Gaffney continued.

In addition, the fort’s non-defense tenants, including the FBI’s technology office, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Patterson Army Health Clinic, could continue to be housed on the post.

Preservation of the military hospital is obviously very important to the thousands of veterans who use it, Gaffney noted.

“I get more mail [about the hospital] than anything else,” he said.

In endorsing the plan outlined by Gaffney and Giordano, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) appealed to head BRAC Commissioner Anthony J. Principi, whose adult son was born at the Fort Monmouth hospital when the now-California resident lived in New Jersey.

“Make Fort Monmouth a sub-installation of the megabase,” Holt said. “It would allow non-Department of Defense functions such as the VA hospital, what we call ‘the Principi clinic’ to stay open.’”

Principi, who officially visited Fort Monmouth on June 3, nodded and smiled.

U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-6), Christopher Smith (R-4) and H. James Saxton, (R-3) also voiced support for the megabase concept.

“The Department of Defense never considered jointness. Moreover, it did not consider the joint access Fort Monmouth already has at nearby Fort Dix/Lakehurst/McGuire ‘megabase,’ which combines Army, Navy and Air Force bases in one location,” Pallone said.

Smith, whose constituency includes Lakehurst, recalled how the naval base was spared from closing during a prior BRAC round. That experience has helped him to understand the Fort Monmouth advocates’ situation, he said.

“The Navy Lakehurst merger with Dix and McGuire is enthusiastically welcomed,” Smith said. “It’s almost contiguous to Fort Monmouth, which could be added to the jointness.”

Saxton, who represents Dix and McGuire in his district, suggested that the Air Force take the lead on the merger to include Fort Monmouth.

“Fort Monmouth, which is 20 miles away, could easily add to the mix,” Saxton said.

Also testifying briefly during the regional hearing were U.S. Sens. Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg, and Eatontown Mayor Gerald J. Tarantolo, who spoke on behalf of the fort’s five neighboring municipalities.