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Community support crucial to save bases

By Staff
March 20, 2004
BRAC TALK Lamar McDonald, left, chairman of the Navy Meridian Team, Whit Hughes of the Mississippi Development Authority, and Bill Crawford, deputy director of MDA, talk before briefing local residents, business leaders and elected officials Friday about how the Defense Department's 2005 round of base closures commonly known as BRAC could affect two Meridian bases.PHOTO by Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star
By Terry R. Cassreino assistant managing editor
If Mississippi's military installations are to survive the next round of federal base closings, state and local activists say people living near the camps must unite and work together starting now.
Bill Crawford, deputy director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said Friday that Gov. Haley Barbour and other state officials will offer support. But, he said, the main job rests with individual communities.
Crawford and Lamar McDonald, chairman of the Navy Meridian Team and the Mississippi Military Communities Council, briefed residents, business leaders and elected officials about base closing efforts.
The Union Station meeting, which attracted more than 50 people, was one of several briefings Crawford plans in communities that have a military presence. Crawford visited Hattiesburg and the Coast earlier this week.
Crawford covered no new information at the meeting. Instead, he outlined the Defense Department's plans to close up to 25 percent of the country's military bases through base realignment and closure efforts, commonly called BRAC.
No military bases in Mississippi have been closed in three previous rounds of BRAC. This time, however, BRAC has been expanded to include National Guard installations across the country.
A list of bases targeted for closure is expected to be released in May 2005.
Tom Williams, president and chief executive office of the Meridian Regional Airport, said he's concerned about the possibility of losing both NAS Meridian and the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard.
Williams, who attended the briefing, said Navy pilots sometimes use the airport's runways for training. Plus, he said, many Navy personnel take commercial flights to and from the airport during key holidays.
Joe Norwood, president of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, also said the county and city can't afford to lose NAS Meridian or the National Guard. He said he expects strong support and help from the community.
McDonald said strong community support is essential.

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