A small political miracle

Published 7:49 pm Saturday, January 8, 2011

On a day when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced a plan to massively scale back the nation’s defense spending and President Barack Obama signed a presidential memorandum authorizing Gates to proceed on his own schedule with his already-announced plan to close U.S. Joint Forces Command, it was somewhat surprising to hear local officials sounding a bit upbeat when they talked about the future of the military.

Yet when they were speaking in particular about the future of JFCOM, officials struck a tone that was far more positive than negative. To be sure, as one Chamber of Commerce official put it, it’s a bittersweet time that folks in the area are going through, knowing that many of their neighbors will soon be out of work. Gates committed on Thursday to closing the command and eliminating the jobs of about half of the approximately 3,700 people who work at JFCOM facilities in Suffolk and Norfolk.

But half of the jobs would be retained under Gates’ new plan to reorganize vital JFCOM functions — such as training and modeling and simulation — under other commands. And even more important, by committing to continuing the important work of training branches of the military to work together and to coordinate with U.S. allies, Gates is helping to assure that JFCOM will continue to be a vital part of our nation’s security — if not in name, at least in function.

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As one local leader said on Friday, we’re light years ahead of where we were in August, when officials at every level of government were blindsided by the news that Gates had been considering a plan to close the entire command and that he intended to recommend to the president just that action as part of a bid to save $100 billion in defense spending over a 10-year period.

The distance that has been covered in the intervening five months has been covered on the backs of those same government and officials and business leaders at the local, state and federal levels. Working in an unprecedentedly bipartisan fashion, those leaders in August set immediately about the task of either blocking the closure or convincing the Pentagon to retain important portions of it.

Although local officials are hesitant about celebrating just yet, the strategy seems to have paid off with Gates’ announcement on Thursday. Officials say that it seems clear that however the closure is carried out, Suffolk is likely to retain the important modeling and simulation JFCOM functions that have served as the linchpin for other, related economic development in the Harbour View area.

And that little political miracle will prove to be good for both Suffolk and the nation.