Year of the rumor drags on

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen declared 2004 “The Year of Rumors.” Larsen said his office routinely hears about lists of military bases to be closed. But everything he hears is conjecture.

Simply put, there is no truth to the rumors, according to those at the top of the military pyramid.

“There is no list,” Glen Flood, a press officer at the Pentagon, told the News-Times Wednesday. Flood said Pentagon staffers are still analyzing data they received from every U.S. base earlier this year.

Only after that analysis takes place will work begin on the list of proposed 2005 base closures, which must eventually be approved by Congress and the President.

Since January, rumor and innuendo about base realignment and closure have filtered through Washington, D.C., and around the world. E-mail lists claiming to be BRAC proposals have flown back and forth.

A list of bases proposed to be closed or realigned will be announced no later than May 16, 2005. No official list will be issued before then, Flood said.

“The Navy as a whole was hit hard by the last BRAC,” Larsen said. “I’d like to think it’s time for other services” to have bases on the BRAC list.

Larsen toured Whidbey Island Naval Air Station last week to meet with officials. He attended a meeting of Oak Harbor’s Save Our Base committee. Local business people and community members formed the group at the time of the first BRAC round in 1991. Since then, the group has remained active.

This meeting, which was closed to the public and the media, focused on a proposed list but Larsen downplayed the list’s importance.

“It’s all rumor,” he said.

On Whidbey Island, any hint of information about Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s continued presence receives attention. Most recently, a list supposedly from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight has circulated in Oak Harbor. Whidbey Island Naval Air Station isn’t listed as a base targeted for closure or realignment.

This list has circulated around the country at least three times, Flood said. It’s been attributed to various Department of Defense officials as well as different branches of the service.

“I won’t speculate on who creates these lists,” Flood said. “I know it’s not ours and just about anything can be created on the Internet.”

Larsen doesn’t think NAS Whidbey will be on the official list when it is published.

He sees the base as important in the war on terror. EA-6B Prowlers, the radar-jamming jets, have become crucial to every mission of every service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Patrol and reconnassiance squadrons gather needed information.

Larsen’s working to get the Prowler follow-on plane, the EA-18G, stationed at Whidbey.

While BRAC rumors continue to proliferate, Larsen said he sees opportunities at Whidbey Island.

“It could become a joint base,” he said. “And that would add a facet to the value of NAS Whidbey Island.”

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