Retired officer served on base closure commission in 1995

Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

Retired Maj. Gen. Josue “Joe” Robles Jr. served on the eight-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission during the last round of base closures in 1995. The San Antonio, Texas, resident and chief financial officer of USAA Financial Services talked about his experience on the commission and how the BRAC process works.

Q: What were some of the reasons for base closures in 1995?

A: Back then the reason a lot of the bases were shut down is because there were other bases that could do the same mission, that had the same capabilities. And or they were bases that had fewer infrastructure (and were older, less modern). I think a third thing would be excess capacity. In other words, if there were two or three bases running at 50 percent capacity it would be better to close one of them and combine a few.

Q: Cannon Air Force Base is seeking to expand its airspace. How much of a role does that play in BRAC?

A: To me that’s a preventative thing. The more airspace you have … the more attractive the base becomes compared to some other bases, for example that might have restrictive airspace or encroachment from communities.

Q: Cannon has F-16s and there’s been talk of retiring that plane. Would that be a factor for Cannon this BRAC?

A: That could play a role if there’s nothing that could come behind them, but I think that’s still speculation that they’re going to be retired. F-16s are relatively new, and I know they’re wanting to bring the new generation of planes but I think it’s going to be a long time before they’re taken out of the Air Force. I think the Reserves will keep them for a while.

Q: Are there any bases that you think would almost for certain be on the BRAC list?

A: No, I tell you what, I don’t think anybody would tell you that, because I promise you every base is going to be looked at by the Secretary of Defense’s office to see which ones have the highest military value, the best capacity and structure.

Q: How much of a role does politics play in BRAC?

A: In theory, politics is not supposed to play into the commissioners’ decisions. But that is not realistic. The fact of the matter is politics play a big role, and I think that’s why you see the Congressional delegations, state delegations and local delegations head to Washington to support their bases. There is a lot of political jockeying going on right now.

The notion is if you are from a state and get appointed to the commission then you’re going to be for those bases in that state and I think that’s probably true. In 1995, commissioners stood up for the bases in their state. They were appointed politically, and the reason we were appointed was to carry the flag for the bases in their state.

Q: Curry County and eastern New Mexico are rural areas and Cannon has a big economic impact on the community. Does that play a role in decision-making?

A: One of the things BRAC commissioners and the Depart of Defense looks at is what is the economic impact to the local area. You have to take that into consideration. It’s not the most important criteria, not the one that’s going to decide the issue, but with all things being equal it plays an important role.

Q: What about airspace? Federal officials say Cannon has a unique and large airspace.

A: Airspace is important. You need land to be able to train, so one of the things you don’t want to give up is good airspace and good land to train at, because once you give it up you’ll never get it back. If you have good airspace that’s not getting encroached upon, it’s got to be a plus.

Q: Was there anything that highlighted the 1995 BRAC?

A: I think the most important thing during the 1995 base closure was the recognition by everybody — from the DoD to the commissioners — that there had to be another round because there still was excess facilities and excess bases that could be taken down and combined. But nobody wanted to do it right away. They wanted give a chance for the previous three or four base closure rounds to kind of settle down and get things sorted out.

Q: What about cleanup efforts and costs? Do they play a role?

A: Environmental cleanup plays a role, but it’s not the determining factor. But a lot of people are nervous some of these bases have big cleanup bills.

Q: In 1995, was there any talk of closing the bases in New Mexico?

A: There were several that we looked at. I visited Kirtland (Air Force Base) … They were basically on the list and we had to look at them. (He said he didn’t visit Cannon).

Q: Do you think the Pentagon has already made the initial list?

A: They’ve probably been making the list for some time and I believe it’s mostly done. The list is in the final stages of being finalized. But they’re not going to release that list (until the commission is set). So many people are interested to see if their base is on or off the list.

— Compiled by CNJ News Editor Mike Linn