Larsen vows no closures for Everett, Whidbey bases

In at least one man's opinion, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and the Everett Homeport are critical to the defense of the United States.

For that reason, said Rep. Rick Larsen this week while visiting Whidbey Island, the two bases should escape the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure list, known as BRAC.

Speaking Thursday morning to an audience of nearly 100 South Whidbey Kiwanis, Rotary and Soroptimist members at the Useless Bay Golf and Country Club, Larsen -- a Democrat from Arlington -- said the Northwest has a number of military assets vital to the nation's defense with easy access to the Pacific.

"Everett is a popular assignment with sailors," he said. "I've heard its motto is 'the sailor's choice' because it is so modern."

Larsen also believes that Whidbey Island Naval Air Station stacks up well against other such facilities.

"At this point, I feel very good that Oak Harbor will not be on the BRAC list," he said.

He listed the Whidbey base's 2,200 square miles of round-the-clock air traffic control space and ready access to 10 military operations areas as assets in its favor.

But he reminded his audience to be vigilant throughout the public comment process.

The Department of Defense will draft a criteria for base closure by the end of this year, with public comment in January. Congress would take action on the criteria in March 2004, Larsen said.

The document could have "huge implications for base structures in the U.S. and abroad," Larsen said.

He had advice for Whidbey Islanders who are interested in hanging onto their base.

"It's important for communities like Oak Harbor to prepare themselves to support Naval Air Station Whidbey Island," he said.

When asked whether the recent decision to locate the SBX radar station in Alaska might adversely affect the decision to keep the Everett and Oak Harbor bases open, Larsen said that will not be a factor.

"It was good decision for our area," he said. "There are no radar encroachment areas between SeaTac and Vancouver, British Columbia."

The biggest asset for Whidbey is the support of the community, he said.

"You need look no farther than the actions the city and county have taken to ensure little or no encroachment on the base," he said. "That reflects the importance of NAS as a place for pilots to train."

Larsen said as a member of the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on readiness, he voted against going ahead with the 2005 BRAC, citing the changed military needs after Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"The Department of Defense is struggling with the idea of worldwide commitment (of troops)," Larsen said.

That could affect the number of bases needed in the United States and overseas.

"The national security structure has changed. Base closures have to take that into consideration."

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