JFCOM order signed

Published 10:49 pm Friday, January 7, 2011

Obama gives Gates authority to close facility

President Barack Obama weighed in on the future of U.S. Joint Forces Command on Thursday, giving Defense Secretary Robert Gates the authority to shut it down at his discretion.

But those involved locally with the fight to protect the command and the nearly 4,000 jobs it provides remained hopeful on Friday that many of those jobs would be saved and much of the command’s work continued under other agencies.

“Training and simulation will still be needed,” Suffolk City Councilman Robert Barclay said Friday. “It looks like a lot of those functions will stay.”

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Barclay is the Suffolk City Council’s liaison on the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce JFCOM Task Force, a group set up in the wake of an August announcement by Gates that he intended to shutter the command, which has a huge facility in Suffolk that employs nearly 2,000 people.

Barclay said he was especially encouraged by a portion of a statement released on Friday by Gen. Ray Odierno, the JFCOM commanding general brought in by Gates and given the direct responsibility of developing and carrying out a plan to dismantle the command.

“U.S. Joint Forces Command has an exceptionally skilled and capable work force that will continue to make contributions to the joint warfighter,” Odierno said in a statement released by the command’s communications office. “We will do everything we can to assist the work force going forward.”

In fact, during a press conference on Thursday — prior to the president signing the memorandum on the command’s disestablishment — Gates confirmed that “roughly 50 percent of the capabilities under JFCOM will be kept and assigned to other organizations.”

That’s good news for Hampton Roads, whose congressional delegation and state representatives have been hard at work since August to salvage what they could of JFCOM. And it could be good news for Suffolk, in particular, if the right functions — such as the modeling and simulation and training capabilities — are saved.

“I remain hopeful that a number of critical joint training missions have been identified and will be retained in Suffolk,” Mayor Linda Johnson said in a statement released on Friday.

Noting that she has a meeting scheduled for next week with Odierno, she added, “I look forward to meeting with General Odierno and learning more about the vital functions that will remain in Hampton Roads and Suffolk.”

Whatever happens, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce will be ready to help those local businesses that are affected by the change, said Dean McClain, the Chamber’s director of municipal affairs.

“We are prepared to work with Suffolk — and obviously Norfolk, too — through our Small Business Development Center,” to give those businesses advice and help with the transition, he said.

“Basically, we keep working to diversify our economy,” he added.

But given the way things looked in August, when Gates made his closure announcement to an unprepared community, there’s reason for at least some optimism, McClain said.

“We’re light years from where we were in August, when we were blindsided,” he said.