Alaska mobilizes to save Eielson AFB

By Dan Joling: The Associated Press

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Lots of people around Fairbanks worry about the economic fallout if the Pentagon pulls more than 2,800 airmen and 3,300 dependents from Eielson Air Force Base. Benny Lin would take a direct hit.

Lin owns Pagoda Chinese Restaurant, and his delivery truck makes hourly trips to the base most evenings. Airmen with cars bring their spouses and children to his North Pole restaurant to dine on moo goo gai pan, kung pao shrimp or Mongolian chicken.

Lin estimates that 60 percent of his business comes from Eielson. He holds little hope that people will drive 14 miles from Fairbanks to fill the void if Eielson is gutted.

The Defense Department last month recommended closing 33 major bases and major reductions at 29 more, saying it would save $49 billion over the next 20 years. On Wednesday, four Base Realignment and Closure Commission members convene the first regional hearing on those recommendations here, and will get an earful from Alaskans about why Eielson should be dropped from the list.

The BRAC analysis concludes that the net loss of 2,940 military and civilian jobs at Eielson will result in the loss of 1,770 more jobs in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Together, that’s a loss of 8.6 percent of all borough jobs, according to the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Not since Pope John Paul II met President Reagan in Fairbanks in 1984 has there been such a flurry of community action in response. The borough quickly appropriated $500,000 to protect Eielson and the Legislature matched it with $1 million more.