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Military Community Hopes To Keep A Base


Military bases are important to so many communities across America. But a new raft of closures could be in the works. The Pentagon says it can save up to $2 billion a year by closing bases it considers unnecessary. Military communities like California's Monterey Bay are worried. They lost a major Army base in the 1990s, and they're bracing for more military cuts. Krista Almanzan from member station KAZU takes a look at the city's strategy to stay essential.

KRISTA ALMANZAN, BYLINE: Every year, the old Fort Ord looks less and less like an Army base.

FRED MEURER: My office used to be right there on this corner of this road.


MEURER: Yeah. I was the public works director out here.

ALMANZAN: Fred Meurer is a retired Army colonel. We climb up the stairs of an old cinder block building.

MEURER: It used to be before things happened - very - almost sad to see these buildings boarded up.

ALMANZAN: Now most of the plywood is gone. And some of the buildings are part of a university, Cal State, Monterey Bay.

Monterey is still home to the Naval Postgraduate School and the Defense Language Institute. That's the military's language training school. Together, they provide 12,000 jobs.

MEURER: Dealing with base closure is not an event. You don't wake up one morning, you're on the list and then you get to work. Dealing with base closure is doing exactly what the City of Monterey is doing now. It's just an ongoing effort, part of the DNA of this city.

ALMANZAN: Part of the DNA because they've been through it. After retiring from the service, Meurer was Monterey city manager and a member of the team that got Fort Ord off the base closure list in 1988. The group wasn't so successful in 1991.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'll make the motion, Mr. Chairman. I move that we recommended to the president the closure of Fort Ord, Calif.

ALMANZAN: That was the base closure hearing that sealed the fate of Fort Ord. While the region hasn't lost a military base since, preparing for a closure never stops. Last year, the city hosted a gathering to explain how it's working to protect the region from the base realignment and closure process, BRAC for short.


JOHN MURPHY: California's experience with previous BRACs - there's really only one word that's appropriate for that, and I would say that that is that California got gutted.

ALMANZAN: That's John Murphy, a consultant and former Air Force officer who appeared on the panel. The city hired him to analyze the region's strengths and weaknesses.


MURPHY: Your argument is value. You are never going to make the Monterey Peninsula inexpensive. It's not possible.

ALMANZAN: But, he told the crowd, just like Washington, D.C., Monterey can make the case that it offers something no one else can.


MURPHY: It's no more possible than it is to make the Washington, D.C., area inexpensive. And yet, there are things in D.C. - and they stay there - because the value of having them overrides the cost of them being there. And you have that exact same circumstances here.

ALMANZAN: California actually has more native speakers of more languages than any other state, so the city is marketing the region as the language capital of the world. Its argument is simple. Monterey should be home to the Army's Defense Language Institute. Hans Uslaar is the assistant city manager.

HANS USLAR: The question that we will ask is, where else than in Monterey?

ALMANZAN: And his answer is nowhere but Monterey.

USLAR: It is a huge marketplace to recruit native speaking teachers. I believe we are creating a good basis to not overlook California when it comes to language training and potential base closures.

ALMANZAN: The city has to make its case now. Even if Congress doesn't know whether or not there will be more base closures, Uslar is pretty sure he knows.

USLAR: Everyone says BRAC will never happen, yet we had five rounds of BRAC. That's a phenomenon. So BRAC will be coming, and we are preparing for that.

ALMANZAN: The latest Pentagon budget calls for a new round of base closures in 2021.

For NPR News, I'm Krista Almanzan.

(SOUNDBITE OF E'VAX'S "THE PROCESS OF LEAVING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.
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