‘Productive’ meeting on JFCOM

Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, November 23, 2010

They came demanding a seat at the table and promises of fair consideration when it comes to making a final decision regarding the possible closure of U.S. Joint Forces Command.

At the end of a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday, Gov. Bob McDonnell and the state’s congressional delegation left with much of what they had requested.

The group conducted what it called a “productive” meeting Tuesday morning with Gates on the proposed closure of the command.

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Things looked a lot better for the area by the time the meeting was over than they did before it started, those who attended indicated during a press conference later in the day on Tuesday.

McDonnell and others said Gates was receptive to their demands for a seat at the table and agreed to consider a number of options, including retaining some of JFCOM’s functions in Hampton Roads and relocating other commands to the area.

“Virginia’s got a seat at the table,” McDonnell said in a press conference after Tuesday’s meeting. “We received some good signs.”

JFCOM, which is tasked with promoting cooperation among America’s military forces and between the U.S. military and other countries’ militaries, employs thousands throughout the Hampton Roads area, including more than 2,000 at a facility in North Suffolk. Gates recommended in August that the command be disestablished.

McDonnell added that Gates acknowledged there are “absolutely critical and essential functions of JFCOM that cannot be moved into the Pentagon or elsewhere,” such as modeling and simulation and the joint warfighting center.

“We also understand there are several functions that are still being evaluated that will likely remain in Virginia,” McDonnell added.

Gates also said he would consider replacing any losses in Virginia with other functions, such as relocating other commands to the area. Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) last week recommended the headquarters for the U.S. Africa Command be relocated to Norfolk from Stuttgart, Germany.

Further, McDonnell said Gates would consider some type of compensation to the state if jobs were lost, similar to what would happen if the closure went through a Base Realignment and Closure process.

“The secretary was very receptive,” McDonnell said.

Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) echoed McDonnell’s positive statements.

“We had a constructive session,” Warner said. “There’s been enormous frustration — like the time it took to get this meeting.”

Warner added he’d been “let down by this lack of information and transparency in the process so far,” but felt that progress had been made at Tuesday’s meeting.

Congressman Randy Forbes added he had heard some good news from the meeting, but expressed disappointment there still seemed to be no analysis supporting a closure recommendation.

“We have been given no analysis at all to buttress this decision, still, at this late date,” Forbes said. “At some particular point in time, [we] need that kind of analysis.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon that echoed the elected leaders’ comments.

“The Secretary acknowledged today that even after JFCOM is gone, those functions determined to be of importance and retained will likely remain in the Norfolk and Suffolk area.”

Also Tuesday, Webb released data on historical staffing levels for U.S. military commands. He received the data last week after having requested it in August.

The numbers reveal that, while JFCOM has experienced significant growth between 2000 and 2010, several other unified commands experienced comparable or greater growth during that time. The U.S. European Command, for example, grew by 85 percent despite a reduction of nearly 39,000 military personnel in Europe and the transfer of its responsibility for Africa to the new U.S. Africa Command.