BRUNSWICK – If the Pentagon’s wishes come true, Brunswick Naval Air Station may become a ghost of its former self.

All its squadrons – 2,400 people, 34 P-3 Orions and 3 C-130 Hercules cargo planes – would be sent to Florida.

Fewer than 400 active duty personnel would remain at the base, figures BNAS spokesman John James.

There would be others, maybe.

The federal government and the state plan to create a new Armed Services Reserve Center at the base. The current proposal calls for the construction of a new $42 million, 209,000 square-foot complex with classrooms, offices and meetings spaces.

About 1,000 reservists and Guard members from across southern Maine would drill here for a weekend a month. And several full-time staffers would keep the place running.

Like the rest of what would remain at the base, it would seem peripheral to the active duty military. Also staying are a survival school, a clinic, a Navy Lodge for visiting VIPs, military-only stores, fast-food joints and several other supporting services.

There would also be a bunch of empty hangars, including a just-completed $34 million behemoth designed to house P-3s and their planned replacement, a version of the Boeing 737.

The Brunswick base – to be reclassified as a naval air facility – will have no planes left if the proposal goes through.

Meanwhile, Brunswick’s scheduled loss is Jacksonville, Fla.’s gain.

The city’s biggest newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, trumpeted the decision Saturday morning with the headline “Big base winner.”

The paper quoted one of the state’s U.S. senators, Bill Nelson, celebrating Florida’s exemption from any tough cuts. No major base there was closed or substantially realigned.

“This, I believe, is the result of the hard work of leaders in communities all across our state,” Nelson told the Times-Union.

They were led by a Mainer.

William Cohen, the former Maine senator and U.S. secretary of defense, was part of a dream team of military lobbyists.

Besides Cohen, the state hired Dick Armey, the former majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and retired Adm. Robert Natter, the former commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

However, the last time there was a base-closure round, Cohen was among the Brunswick base’s champions.

That was 1995. And one of Cohen’s jobs was fighting a growing sentiment that the East Coast P-3s ought to be consolidated in one base, either in Jacksonville or Brunswick.

It didn’t happen last time. This time, it did.

The Pentagon cited the consolidation in the first line of its official justification for the move of Brunswick’s squadrons. However, no such realignment occurred on the West Coast, where squadrons in Washington State and Hawaii are slated to remain in place.

There may be a little comfort to locals, however.

Capt. Robert Winneg, the commanding officer of Brunswick Naval Air Station, reminded people Friday that the process has only began. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission has until September to make a decision. Then Congress and the president may also stop the process.

And in Jacksonville, a massive-but-crowded base, room will have to be made for Brunswick’s planes.

The base already plays host to five P-3 squadrons, besides squadrons of helicopters and a Naval Aviation Depot, which employs thousands of people.

It will take some time to make room for Brunswick’s squadrons, said John James, the spokesman for the Brunswick’s base and a former P-3 Orion pilot.

“It would be two years,” James said. “Maybe three.”


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