Top admiral to testify at naval base hearing

By Sue Lindsey: The Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy’s new chief will testify this week at a defense commission hearing on whether Oceana Naval Air Station should be among military bases it recommends for closure.

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who became chief of naval operations July 15, will appear before the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission in Washington on Thursday, a spokeswoman said. The Navy has said it wants to keep the Virginia Beach base open, but Mullen’s spokeswoman said she did not know the specifics of his testimony.

Oceana was a late addition to the bases that the BRAC Commission is considering recommending for closure. It was not on the Pentagon’s original list in May, but the commission took the unusual step of adding it last week.

Commission researchers said neighborhood development is encroaching on pilots’ ability to practice taking off and landing at all hours.

Closing the base is part of a proposed scenario that would relocate the Master Jet Base at Oceana to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, and moving planes assigned to Moody to Cannon Air Force Base.

Chad Lydick, a member of the Cannon support group Committee of Fifty, said the Oceana scenario — which BRAC Chairman Anthony Principi has said could end with a shipment of A-10 planes to Cannon — is the brain child of the local save-Cannon team. That group is comprised of New Mexico congressional delegates, retired military officials, civilians and several hired professionals.

The team, he said, presented five alternative scenarios to Cannon closure to the BRAC Commission after a regional hearing in Clovis last month.

Lydick said the team targeted Oceana because of its blaring contrasts to Cannon.

“Oceana is very highly encroached and the local community there had made it known to the Commission before the (BRAC) list came out in May that they wanted the base closed due to noise complaints and a degree of activities there. We ran some cost figures on the (Oceana) scenario and gave them to the Commission. A lot of research went into presenting the five scenarios,” Lydick said.

Cannon is on the list of 33 major bases in the U.S. recommended for closure.

U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., sent Mullen a letter Wednesday asking him to testify on behalf of retaining Oceana, the Navy’s principal base for fighter jets on the East Coast.

“Commissioners must be provided the department’s best military judgment and professional advice available on the military value of Naval Station Oceana,” Warner wrote. “You are the most qualified to provide this testimony.”

Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who is leading the effort to keep Oceana open, also told Mullen that he would face “a difficult task to replicate this important installation.”

Oceana, Virginia Beach’s largest employer with nearly 17,000 on its military and civilian staff, is home to about 140 F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets and about 50 F-14 Tomcats.

The BRAC panel will make its final decision next month about which bases to propose for closing or altering, with President Bush and Congress making a binding decision in the fall.

Four BRAC commissioners are scheduled to be in Virginia Beach on Monday to tour the base.