Mayor upbeat on JFCOM

Published 3:53 pm Thursday, November 25, 2010

Suffolk’s mayor reported “cautious optimism” after hearing good news from a Washington meeting on the proposed closure of U.S. Joint Forces Command.

“We certainly are happy to hear now that we’re going to be able to get some information,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said. “We’re going to keep working hard with the congressional delegation and the governor.”

Governor Bob McDonnell, Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner, Congressman Randy Forbes and others met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday, ultimately coming away with some good news and promises of fair consideration in the final decision.

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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.

Johnson, along with other local mayors, participated in a conference call later Tuesday with those who attended the meeting. She was upbeat on Wednesday about the news from the meeting.

“We’ve been working hard to get all of these details, facts and figures,” she said. “Opening up that dialogue — that’s the first piece.”

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. McDonnell also said Gates would consider some type of compensation to the state if jobs were lost.

One new figure that came from the meeting was the revelation that JFCOM employs only about 3,900 people at its Hampton Roads facilities. Previous estimates had the number of jobs closer to 6,000.

“It came very clear that that number is not correct,” Johnson said. “It’s more like 3,900 jobs — and there’s a possibility of retaining a pretty good percentage of those.”

McDonnell said Gates acknowledged there are “absolutely critical and essential functions of JFCOM that cannot be moved into the Pentagon or elsewhere,” indicating such things as the joint warfighting center and the modeling and simulation segment likely will stay in Hampton Roads.

“I think the outcome will be OK,” Johnson said, adding that much of the credit for the meeting goes to McDonnell and his task force on the issue. “He relentlessly was working for that meeting for a long time.”