Georgia forts are important to U.S. efforts

David Scott

Fort Gillem and Fort McPherson have extraordinary and unique military value for our defense and national security. These two bases provide critical links for our troops abroad and at home as we face difficult military needs today and in the future.

In the wake of last week's announcement that Fort Gillem and Fort McPherson are on the list of base closures, two key factors critical to our national security and defense were ignored: 1) we are not at peace and, 2) our military force is becoming overextended because of lack of recruitment. In truth, if we focus on the primary factor the Pentagon used for evaluating the bases, military value, the closure of Forts Gillem and McPherson would be a blow to our military mission and strategic mobility, a step backward in our recruitment efforts in this time of war, and a serious blow to homeland security.

For our national security, geographically, Forts Gillem and McPherson are ideally located to support the military's need for rapid deployment and strategic mobility. The forts are home to four Major Army Command Headquarters that train, mobilize, deploy, sustain and reconstitute combat ready active and reserve forces directly engaged in the worldwide war on terrorism. The proximity of these bases to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, as well as major rail and ground transportation, ensure the strategic mobility needed in today's rapid deployment of our forces to various hotspots around the world. Closing these bases and moving forces to more remote bases in the United States would severely curtail this ability.

Concerning military value, Forts Gillem and McPherson are major components in the nation's ability to recruit and maintain an all volunteer army, the backbone of which is the Army Reserves and National Guard Units. These forts include the U.S. Army Reserve Command, which provides command and control for all assigned Army Reserve forces. In addition, the First U.S. Army ensures the training, mobilization, deployment, redeployment and reconstitution of Army Reserve and National Guard units in the eastern United States. The benefits of the metro Atlanta area in terms of affordable housing, employment opportunities, and world class transportation, educational, medical and recreational facilities are important factors in our nation's ability to recruit Army reserve and National Guard Units. Closing of these forts would further weaken our country's recruitment ability at a time when the military is overextended and is failing to meet recruiting deadlines.

Finally, the forts provide a critical link to federal and state agencies directly engaged in homeland security, homeland defense and domestic disaster relief operations. The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory based at Fort Gillem provides worldwide forensic laboratory services and training for the Department of Defense, Department of Justice and other authorized users. Also, regional headquarters, including FEMA, the Red Cross and GEMA coordinate homeland security from Fort Gillem. The proximity of these services to major infrastructure is crucial to our nation's ability to respond to a terrorist threat or attack at home.

As a businessman, longtime elected official and supporter of the smart growth of this great region, I understand the eagerness to highlight the economic benefits that development could bring in peaceful times.

But this is a time of war and we cannot afford the cost to our military value if we shutter Forts Gillem and McPherson, critical military links for the war abroad and the security efforts at home.

Congressman David Scott represents the 13th Congressional District of Georgia.