BRUNSWICK – People who live and work here were expecting to feel one of two ways by noon Friday: scared or relieved.

But, as news about the Brunswick Naval Air Station traveled across restaurant booths and grocery store lines, words such as “realignment” and “massive reorganization” left many not knowing what to think, how to feel.

Yes, the Brunswick Naval Air Station was saved from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s list of bases recommended for complete closure.

But, it is slated for changes – big, drastic changes.

If military and state leaders aren’t able to persuade Rumsfeld to change his mind, every airplane would disappear from the base, and about half of the military force – 2,360 of the 4,800 existing jobs – would go with them.

“What does half really mean?” wondered Peter Robbins, owner of the Bohemian Coffee House in downtown Brunswick. “It’s the military. They’ll probably make the cuts, then bump it back up ever so slowly.”

Others interpreted Friday’s announcement as a step in the other direction.

“I think this is just an attempt to save face,” Sally Bibber said. “The chances are good that in five to 10 years, they’ll close it altogether.”

A student at the Brunswick branch of Southern New Hampshire University, Bibber was eating lunch Friday in her convertible at Fat Boy’s Restaurant.

Just outside the naval station’s main gate, the popular restaurant is a few hundred yards from the university and from the base’s twin runways.

Bibber is graduating in a few days, but she worries that her alma mater will not survive the changes.

“In some of my classes, there are no native Mainers,” she said. “So many of my classmates are connected to the base.”

Several cars away, Steve Norman agreed that it is probably only a matter of time before the base shuts down.

“They’re just pushing off the inevitable,” he said. “Someday, we’ll have to bite the bullet.”

Tami Thibodeau, a doctor at Parkview Hospital, acknowledged that the news could have been worse.

Still, she said, it’s sad. Her father was transferred to the base when she was a baby, and her family has lived in the area since. She knows many people who, like her father, decided to stay in Brunswick after retiring from the military.

“It always just seemed like the base was going to be there,” she said, sitting on a park bench in the middle of town. “It could be worse. We could be Portsmouth. But I think this is really going to hurt the community.”

George McElman needed more information to form his opinion. While having lunch at Grand City Variety, he wondered if half of the base could still be marketed to the private airlines and other businesses who have expressed interest in the site.

“That could almost be better,” he said.

Sitting in a booth across the restaurant, Holland Low wasn’t so optimistic.

He believes Brunswick is now worse off than Kittery, home to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which did make it onto the closure list.

“Now private industries can’t come and use the site,” Low said. “If they are going to cut a percentage of it, why not close the whole base? This just leaves us in limbo.”


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