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Hampton Roads leaders brace as Mattis calls for more base closings

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WVEC) -- Secretary of Defense James Mattis this week told the House Armed Services Committee that a new round of military base closings in 2021 would save $10 billion over five years.

But locally, it could bring much pain.

"Oceana was almost gone. Let me be perfectly clear about that," said Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms.

It came as a total surprise, 12 years ago in 2005, when the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission suddenly and without warning added Naval Air Station Oceana to its list. And, Hampton Roads almost saw the base's 18 jet squadrons and 14,000 workers sent to Florida.

Fort Monroe in Hampton was also closed.

Members of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance weren't happy to hear of this latest call for more closings.

"I'm concerned about it," said Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe. "I have been concerned since the last round."

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander is also concerned.

"I certainly appreciate the general's service, but I think he's wrong as it relates to closing our military facilities," he said.

Still, some alliance members think the region is well-positioned.

"I think being prepared is a big piece of it," said Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson. "And I think we're as prepared as we possibly can be here."

Newport News Mayor McKinley Price was cautious.

"I don't say I feel comfortable, you never should feel comfortable with a BRAC," he said. "But I'm pleased we're doing everything we can to improve our position if there is a BRAC."

Retired Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, who heads the alliance, is confident.

"A BRAC round isn't anything to be feared," he said. "It's something you prepare for, but you're prepared for it every day."

Pentagon officials have estimated the five previous base closing rounds since 1990 combined have saved taxpayers at least $12 billion annually.

Secretary Mattis said the savings from a new BRAC round would be enough to buy 120 new Super Hornets, 300 Apache helicopters, or four Virginia Class submarines.

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