Military News

Sen. Roger Wicker says there are no base closings in defense bill

 Sen. Roger Wicker talks to Air Force Col. Frank Amodeo on Wednesday at the Gulport Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Breakfast.
PAUL HAMPTON/SUN HERALD Sen. Roger Wicker talks to Air Force Col. Frank Amodeo on Wednesday at the Gulport Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Breakfast.

GULFPORT -- The defense spending bill making its way through the Senate contains no money for a new round of base closings, Sen. Roger Wicker said Wednesday.

Wicker, speaking at the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Breakfast, said this could be the earliest the National Defense Authorization Act makes it through Congress.

"Usually, it bogs down and we're dealing with it in November and December," he said. This year, he believes it will be out of the Senate in a couple of weeks.

"It was reported out of a committee on a bipartisan basis -- 23 yeses, three noes. Those three noes were Republicans, actually. So almost all of the Republicans and all of the Democrats voted yes."

The bill as it stands puts military spending at $602 billion, which Wicker noted was exactly what President Barack Obama had asked for.

"You should know the NDAA has no authorization for another round of base closings," he said. "We've done that. We've got the T-shirt. And this is no time to be talking about another round of (the Base Closure and Realignment Commission)."

That was good news for many in the Great Southern Club atop the Hancock Bank Building, where representatives of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and the Seabee Base in Gulfport, as well as defense contractor Ingalls Shipbuilding, came to hear Wicker.

In the 2005 round of BRAC, medical services at Keesler were on the block but ultimately left untouched. Mississippi leaders, fearing a round of BRAC was coming this year, allocated $2 million to help Biloxi, Gulfport and other communities with a military presence fight off closings.

Wicker also reminded the crowd of the successful fight to keep the Flying Jennies at Keesler.

"Last year, we almost lost one of our two flying missions at Keesler," he said. "Basically Sen. (Thad) Cochran and I said show us where that saves us money -- and we'll give you some time to do that. They came back and said it might save a dollar or two here or there but not enough to disrupt things."

Wicker said the squadron should be up to full strength by 2019.

That is good news for Col. Frank Amodeo, commander of the 403rd Wing of the Air Force Reserve Command at Keesler, the wing that includes the Jennies and Hurricane Hunters.

"It's the largest tenant unit at Keesler and the only Air Force Reserve flying mission," he said. "We believed we were losing a wing and now we're keeping it and adding squadrons."

Officials have announced this year the addition of a maintenance unit and an aeromedical evacuation squadron to the 403rd.

He said the additions will bring the number of personnel in the 403rd up to 1,500.

Wicker said the other key to keeping Coast military installations strong is avoiding another round of sequestration in 2018, which would kick in if Congress doesn't get spending under control. The way to do that, he said, is to rein in spending on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and the interest on the national debt, something he said could only be achieved with bipartisan support.

"We've done (sequestration) once," Wicker said, "and I believe the admirals and generals when they say we survived this but don't come back again and expect us to bounce back from another sequestration."