From time to time as our country goes through various stages of readiness, the United States federal government will recognize a need to increase the Department of Defense (DoD) efficiency by realigning or closing some U.S. military bases. This process is called Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) and is run by a BRAC Commission consisting of a nine-member independent panel chosen by the President. This panel evaluates recommendations given by the Secretary of Defense, conducts interviews gathering testimony from interested parties, and visits bases that would be affected by the possible closure. The panel has the opportunity to add bases to that list and then provides its recommendations to the President. Then the list is provided to Congress by the President where they approve or disapprove the complete list.
In communities that are used to seeing unique aircraft in their skies, having their airbase closed also means they are missing an iconic element of their region. Examples of this would be the A-10s Warthog at Myrtle Beach, SC, or the B-52 at Loring Air Force Base in Maine.
Even bases or ports rooted deeply in our country’s history are not safe from closing. The Brooklyn Naval Yard was built in 1801 in Brooklyn, NY. It produced warships for the U.S. Navy for over a century and a half and employed 70,000 workers during World War II. Still, the yard was decommissioned in 1966. For over 190 years, the Springfield Armory manufactured military firearms for the U.S. In 1777, the location of the Springfield Armory was scouted and approved by General George Washington. The arsenal would produce cartridges and gun carriages for the Revolutionary War effort. It would be closed in 1968 but was designated a National Historic Site.
An installation closing can have a devastating effect on a community through lost jobs and losing money that once poured into the local economy from the service personnel associated with the base. Nonetheless, when a base closes there are still remnants of its existence. Property, buildings, roads, runways, infrastructure, large open spaces, and even golf courses remain. The communities that find a way to put this area to use will find that a hiccup of a base closure can still bring progress and economic development to a town heavily reliant on the base.
Some BRAC closed military facilities have transferred property to other federal agencies. Bases that had runways often become regional or international airports for civilian usage. Businesses may buy the land and use it for their needs. For instance, Castle Air Force Base in Sacramento, California used to be the home to a Bombardment Wing, Air Refueling Squadrons, and Fighter-Interceptor Squadrons. Since the base was closed in 1995, it is utilized as a research site for the local universities, houses a federal penitentiary in one section, and Google leased 60 acres for test development on their self-driving car.
The first time the BRAC closings were completed was in 1988 when the commission recommended closing five Air Force bases. During the BRAC rounds of 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995, and 2005, over 350 installations have been closed. Below are just a select few of those base closings with examples of how those communities or the federal government have put what remains of them to use.
Closed Military Bases – What Are They Doing Now?
An Army post established in 1898, this base was home to Army recruit training, chemical corps and chemical warfare training, military police training, and the training of the Women’s Army Corps.
Since its official closing date in 1999, Ft. McClellan is used for training by the Alabama National Guard and is home to the Custom and Border Protection’s Center for Domestic Preparedness. Because of the storage of chemical munitions, the fort was officially cleared of the ordinance in 2014 and now large swathes of property are for sale and a section of 9,000 acres belong to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Charleston Naval Shipyard
Located on the Cooper River in historic Charleston, SC, this naval shipyard began operating in 1901 as a drydock. During its 95 year history, there were 21 destroyers built at this naval base. During the Cold War, Charleston was homeport for cruisers, destroyers, attack submarines, and more until its closing in 1996.
Following its BRAC closing, the shipyard was leased by a private company that would use the dry docks, floating dock, and six piers that would service military, commercial, and cruise ships. A section of the previous Naval Base area is a multi-use federal complex leased by 17 different agencies and for use by Coast Guard National Security Cutters, NOAA research ships, and Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers. A redevelopment authority is also planning to create mix-use urban properties. In 2013, a railway company purchased the north end of the former base to serve as a container port.
Situated next to the coast in Monterey Bay in California, Fort Ord was considered one of the most attractive Army bases before it closed. It was home to the 7th Infantry Division and also served to train soldiers through basic training and advanced infantry training.
Since its closing, most of the property was given to the state of California. It is home to California State University at Monterey Bay and a section is reserved for a state park and the Fort Ord National Monument. The California Army National Guard still provides a military presence there, and a Veterans Transition Center helps employ veterans exiting service. Surrounding towns have plans for revitalization with mixed-use development but are still in the planning process.
Marine Corps Air Station El Toro
Officially closed in 1999 following a 1993 BRAC designation, El Toro was previously home to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Built in 1942, this base was home to Marine Squadrons flying F-18 Hornets, KC-130 aerial refueling tanks, AV-8B Harriers, F-35B Lightning IIs, unmanned aerial vehicles, V-22 Ospreys, CH-53 Super Stallions, AH-1Z Cobras, and UH-1 Venoms. Following the base closure, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing was moved to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Since it has closed, there was a push to convert the air station into an international airport. It dominated much of the news in Orange County politics in the late 1990s and early 2000s but was defeated by a public vote. Currently, a large section of the old base comprises the Orange County Great Park, an arts and sports recreational hub owned by the City of Irvine, CA. Other parts contain a nature preserve.
Navy Recruit Training Center (RTC) Orlando
Since its commission in 1968, RTC Orlando was established as a basic training facility for Navy recruits. Before it closed in 1995, it was one of three RTC locations for the Navy and the only location for training enlisted women.
The property was returned to the City of Orlando and was fully developed into Baldwin Park, a large neighborhood of Orlando containing homes, apartments, schools, and businesses.
Navy Recruit Training Center (RTC) San Diego
As with RTC Orlando, RTC San Diego was one of three recruit training centers for the Navy before it was closed by BRAC in 1997. That leaves only RTC Great Lakes in Illinois as the single location for Navy basic training.
RTC San Diego would be turned over to the city of San Diego and converted to a mixed-use development. The 361 acres were divided into several districts, including retail and commercial, nonprofit activities, educational, residential hotels, and offices. This development is called Liberty Station.
Myrtle Beach Air Force Base
Originally a municipal airport built by the city of Myrtle Beach in 1939, the Army Air Corps used the airport for a few years around World War II. They returned ownership of the base back to Myrtle Beach in 1947. The city then donated the area to U.S. Air Force again in 1954, which activated Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. For many years, the A-10 Thunderbolt filled the sky over the tourists in Myrtle Beach. When the Air Force expected to begin phasing out the A-10, it spelled the end for the Air Force Base, which closed in 1993. The Army fought for what they believed to be the best close-air-support aircraft, and the Warthog would continue to fly, but not before the base had already been closed.
Following the Air Base closing, the land has been redeveloped. This new community is now home to Myrtle Beach International Airport, over 1000 homes, numerous parks, and sporting facilities, retail complexes, a golf course, a college, and more.
Philadelphia Naval Yard
Founded as a shipyard in 1776, the U.S. Navy did not officially begin operations there until 1801, making it the first Naval Shipyard of the United States. The yard’s first ship, the USS Franklin, a 90-gun wooden-hulled ship, was launched in 1815. The final ship produced there was the USS Blue Ridge, a command ship launched in 1969. Ships were constructed and repaired at the Naval Yard for nearly two centuries.
The Naval Yard was selected for BRAC closing in 1991, but a political fight kept it open until 1995. Since then, the city of Philadelphia has taken over the 1000 acre naval port and begun redevelopment. When the base closed, 7,000 jobs were lost. Today, with the addition of 120 companies utilizing the port facilities, there are now over 10,000 people employed in the old Naval Yard. Many different large national companies like Urban Outfitters and Tasty Baking Company have relocated their headquarters to what is now called a campus. The campus area also includes mixed-use developments. It is also still home to the U.S. Navy’s Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility. Private companies lease piers for the construction and maintenance of commercial, government, and military vessels.
Marine Corps Air Station Tustin
In 1942, this air station was created as a base for airships but would become the first devoted solely to helicopter operations. Its primary mission was to provide support and services to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at MCAS El Toro, which was just a few miles away. MCAS Tustin also was a training center for helicopter pilots. During the Vietnam War, the base was also the prime location for testing radar systems that would be sent to Vietnam.
One of the two 192 foot tall blimp hangers is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and will be actively preserved going forward. The location has been utilized for shooting numerous TV shows and movies like JAG and The X-files. There are also plans to develop the property for mixed-use purposes. The City of Tustin has proposed to the owners of the Los Angeles Angels that the MCAS Tustin site be considered for a future baseball stadium.
Fort Benjamin Harrison
Established in 1903, this Army post was the location of the U.S. Army Finance School and Interservice Postal School. There they train service members for finance, clerical, postal, and information technology duties. It was also the training facility for the Defense Information School (DINFOS). DINFOS trained military members to become journalists for print, radio, television, photography, and public affairs.
The fort was closed in 1995 and much of the training supported there spread to different bases on the East Coast. There is still a small military presence remaining at the fort. Units of Indiana National Guard and Army Reserve commands are based there. The U.S. Defense Finance and Accounting Service also still maintains a presence. Some operations of the American Legion are housed in buildings on the old base. The district that once was Fort Benjamin Harrison is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has over 100 buildings and a parade ground. It also consists of mixed-use residential and administrative buildings.
The Future BRAC Filings
The last BRAC-approved list was 2005. On that list are several bases scheduled for closure or realignment. Some that were added to that BRAC list were later removed, like the Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut. Others were absorbed by merging with other nearby bases like Pope Air Force Base when it combined with Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Currently, some members of the military involved with DoD installations are requesting more BRAC closings. In an article on Military.com, “Defense Officials to Lawmakers: Let Us Close Bases“, the acting budget chief of the Department of Defense John Roth stated: “20 percent of the Pentagon’s facilities could be closed without negative impact.” By closing some of these locations, the DoD could spend money to better serve the military through upgrades and maintenance.
When BRAC talks begin, it can become very politicized as lawmakers see bases and ports in their districts on the chopping blocks, which affect the economies in their regions greatly. Still, any BRAC review that would begin now would likely not produce a list for Congress’ approval until after 2021.