Friday, May 13, 2005

Otis isn't MMR

You heard it here first

Otis ANGB, not MMR, was vulnerable

You would think The Cape Cod Times would know the difference between the Massachusetts Military Reservation and Otis Air National Guard Base.

In its editorial this week, The Times dismissed the possibility that the MMR will be shut down in the next round of base closings, the initial phase of which was published today and Otis (along with Groton and Portsmouth) were on the closure list.

But as I wrote on April 15 for, it is not the MMR that appeared vulnerable to closing, it is the air base and 102nd Fighter Interceptor Wing, one of five military commands at the reservation.

The main problem for Otis is cost - it is enormously expensive to run compared to other Air Guard bases around the country. Elsewhere, these bases are typically situated within commercial or municipal airports, which cover maintenance costs. This was the case with the 102nd, which was based at Logan until the late 1960s. But with the move to the Cape, expenses such as snow removal - recall the difficult winter we just had - were covered by the military, not Massport.

The Times' editorial points out that F-15s from the wing "were the first to respond to the Sept. 11 attacks" and that the 102nd "is our country's first line of defense from air attack across the entire Northeast. Closing Otis would make vulnerable the nation's air defense."

But the closer one looks at the military's response on Sept. 11, the more problematic it becomes for Otis. Two of the wing's F-15s scrambled at 8:53 a.m. in response to the hijackings, according to the 9/11 commission's final report. Heading directly for New York City at top speed, the planes should have reached lower Manhattan by 9:03 to 9:05, which probably would have been too late to stop the second plane (but for all anyone knew at the time, more hijacked planes were heading to New York and the pilots of the F-15s would have been given immediate authorization to shoot them down).

According to the commission's report, the F-15s did not arrive over Manhattan until 9:25, more than a half-hour after they departed Otis. What happened? In the confusion and shock of that terrible morning, the F-15s were diverted to military airspace about 115 miles east of Long Island, according to the report.

The military's Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) first learned of the hijackings from the Federal Aviation Administration at 8:37 a.m., with a call that warned of "a hijacked aircraft heading toward New York," according to the report.

Still fighting the "Cold War"?

But rather than send the planes from Otis directly to New York, the military sent them to air space off Long Island - as if in response to the threat of the last conflict, Russian bombers coming in over the Atlantic. The military has said there was no way to know where the hijacked plane was heading, but apparently it was not a mystery to the FAA official who first called NEADS.

This is not to blame the pilots and ground crews at Otis for their efforts that day - the problem stemmed from an outmoded defense system and poor judgment higher in the chain of command.

But the military's inadequate response that day demands a hard-nosed appraisal of fundamental assumptions that remain with us, such as Otis's importance to homeland security. With New York City almost certainly still a target to al-Qaeda, does it make any sense for its air defense to be based 153 miles away on Cape Cod? Why not at La Guardia, JFK or Newark airports instead, or an air base on Long Island?

The Times' editorial also claimed it would be "foolhardy to close the Upper Cape base in light of the fact that the Pentagon has been relying heavily on the National Guard and Reserve components during the Iraq War. Several units from MMR have served and continue to serve in Iraq."

Compromised facilities

And last I checked, the MMR remains the only military facility in the US where the federal government has banned live artillery out of concern for public health. Does it make any sense to train soldiers with rubber bullets for the dangerous conflict in Iraq?

Senator Edward Kennedy and Congressman Bill Delahunt say they are doing all in their power to keep the MMR open - while they have also consistently rejected requests from the military to ease environmental restrictions while we are at war. Cleaning up the groundwater at the reservation has been an enormous headache costing hundreds of millions of dollars - unlikely to endear the MMR to the Pentagon.

The Cape's topography and climate are also ill-suited what soldiers are encountering in Iraq and may eventually face elsewhere in the Middle East. The MMR's location also makes it of marginal value in other possible conflicts down the road, against North Korea and China.

Come to think of it, one could make a case that all of the MMR is vulnerable, not just Otis as I predicted.

And finally, the state's all-Democratic congressional delegation works against keeping Otis open, as does the fact that one of its members, Sen. John Kerry, ran against President George W. Bush last year in a nasty campaign.

This is not to say I hope Otis is closed or the 102nd is reassigned - I was a member of the 102nd from 1985 to 1991, serving in its civil defense squadron, and I will always be proud of that. If Otis is an integral part of our nation's defense, I hope it continues to serve us in that role, and serve us well.

But if the rationale for Otis's existence is the challenge from an earlier conflict, we need to respond to the world as it is, not as it used to be.


(originally published Thursday, May 12)


At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember how we forced out the Marines with their bad live ammo?

Remember how PROUD Dick Hugus, Joel Feigenbaum and Chuck Kleecamp were about their efforts to shut down the base with enviornmental strictures that they hoped the Pentagon couldn't live with? Let's wake poor Joel up, and ask him for a perchlorate analysis NOW!

At 1:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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I can even tell you where to get one for free! Visit right now and they'll send you a FREE American Flag. These flags were $19.99, but now they are FREE. You pay just for shipping/handling and they'll ship one to your door. (Actually - I've ordered more than 20 from them to give to my neighbors, as gifts, etc!)

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Semper Fi!

Bill Adams

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