Almost as far back as Don Russell can recall, planes from the
nearby naval air station have roared overhead, an audible assurance
of security, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Now that this Maine base has been designated for closure,
however, "this is going to leave a tremendous hole," Mr. Russell
New England's experience is in many ways a barometer for the
nation, as the military contracts into fewer and larger
installations. Despite Wednesday's dramatic decision by the Base
Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) to keep open a shipyard in
southern Maine and a submarine base in Connecticut, the region will
have less military presence going forward than at any time in recent
history. The concern is not so much one of security, but of society.
Some wonder whether the military, by leaving so many places where
it has long been a part of the community, is setting itself up to
become too remote from the very people it is charged with
protecting. This changes the calculus on everything from defense
budgets to recruiting and retention.
A looming disconnect
"As the military goes for fewer bases, there is an increasing
disconnect between the military and the community," says Jeremiah
Gertler of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in
Those trends have begun to take shape in the Northeast, where a
once-strong military presence has slowly ebbed - and recruiting lags
behind every other region of the country.
The further erosion of the military industrial complex in the
Northeast could accelerate the trend, leaving the region with little
stake in the military, either culturally or politically.
"Down the road, in a period when we're not in great danger, it
might be hard to muster congressional majorities for defense
budgets," Dr. Thompson says. "The irony is that the military's
effort to make [BRAC] decisions based on merit might be undercutting
its long-term political base."
In Brunswick, for example, quite aside from the reassuring roar
of planes overhead, far deeper connections include the local pride
in a base that trained pilots for World War II and has since become
the state's second-largest employer.
The station was a "thread in the fabric [of the community] for
years and years," Russell says.
Yet there are valid reasons why the Pentagon would wish to flee
the Northeast and consolidate its bases elsewhere, despite a
tendency to read political motives into the Pentagon's actions,
After all, with fewer bases, there are fewer installations to
protect, and in moving south, the Pentagon is following the model
laid out by private business - moving to where costs are lower and
land is more plentiful.
In voting to overrule the Pentagon and keep open the Portsmouth
Naval Shipyard and Submarine Base New London, the BRAC Commission
simply decided quality was more important than cost savings; the
commission chairman suggested that both the shipyard and sub base
were the premier facilities of their kind in the country. …