It’ll be ‘business as usual’ at BNAS for years to come

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BRUNSWICK – Brunswick Naval Air Station will remain open until September 2011 and preserve its squadrons until at least the fall of 2008, Navy officials said Monday.

“Until then, it will be largely business as usual,” said Michael Braun, program manager for the closure of the local base.

“We have people who are still being assigned here every week,” said Braun, one of two base workers whose full-time job is managing the closure.

Since August, when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to shut the installation, the timeline of its closure has been fuzzy. No one knew when the transfer would happen.

It’s getting clearer, now.

Just down the hall from the base commander’s office, Braun and his co-worker, base transition coordinator Marty McMahon, have charted the expected departure of dozens of on-base organizations.

Little happens on the chart until the first planes leave. Then, as the chart reads, Exodus begins.

“The operational need impacts everything else,” Braun said. As planes leave, so will the air crews, mechanics and clerks who operate every squadron.

Their departure will have a kind of domino effect. Fewer operational personnel means less need for medical workers, family support staff, housing workers or people to run the cafeteria.

Each of those groups will shrink.

The base is home to four active duty P-3 “Orion” squadrons, a reserve P-3 group and a reserve squadron of C-130 “Hercules” cargo planes.

During the federal fiscal year beginning in October 2008, three of Brunswick’s six squadrons are scheduled to leave. Two more will leave the following year. And the last will go in the base’s final 12 months, Braun said.

Each departure is – appropriately – charted in gray.

With years to plan, it is much too soon for specific dates to be settled upon, said Braun.

“There are too many moving parts,” he said.

One of the issues governing the process is space for the planes and workers at Florida’s Jacksonville Naval Air Station, where the squadrons will be reassigned.

That base has too little hangar space for the five squadron’s 30-plus aircraft. Navy officials aim to spend tens of millions of dollars to house Brunswick’s squadrons.

“We’re watching it very closely,” Braun said. “They haven’t started the construction, yet.”

Meanwhile, with at least two-and-a-half years to operate at full strength, BNAS is continuing to unveil new facilities.

Next week, officials plan to begin using a new $10 million, eight-story control tower.

The project was under construction when the closure order came down.

“We have people who will serve complete three-year tours here who have yet to arrive,” Braun said. “We have to operate for a while longer.”

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