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May 7, 2013

Officials huddle to protect Camp Atterbury from future cuts

Sen. Coats says military typically downsizes after conflicts are over

EDINBURGH — Elected officials and military leaders plan to fight to protect Camp Atterbury when the military starts cutting bases nationwide over the next few years.

U.S. Sen. Dan Coats predicts that a national round of base closures will begin in 2015, and said more could follow.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are largely over, and the military typically downsizes after such conflicts. No post is completely safe, including Camp Atterbury in Southern Johnson County, Coats said.

Indiana Congressmen will work to preserve and protect Camp Atterbury, the Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations in Jennings County and other Indiana military facilities, Coats said. They plan to promote Indiana as a low-cost and centrally located place to do military training.

Camp Atterbury potentially could benefit from the closure of bases elsewhere, because it could take over some of their training missions, said Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, Indiana National Guard adjutant general. The post plans to be aggressive about picking up missions that closed posts once did, in order to remain as active as possible, he said.

Umbarger and other Indiana military leaders met last week with Coats, Congresswoman Susan Brooks, and Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann to discuss Indiana’s current and future role in the nation’s defense. They talked about how to preserve jobs, funding and initiatives at Indiana’s military facilities in light of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. The meeting was the first gathering of Indiana’s members of Congress and all of the state’s military commanders in a decade, Brooks said.

“We’re thinking about the ways we can tell Indiana’s story,” she said.

Discussions are needed, because the federal government likely will soon begin its first round of base closures since 2005, Coats said.

Larger Cold War-era posts likely would be more vulnerable than Camp Atterbury, which has received about $500 million in new federal investment for barracks, chow halls, ranges and other new facilities since it was activated as a mobilization site a decade ago, Coats said. He said too much has been invested in the facility in recent years for it to be closed.

The post may no longer be mobilizing thousands of soldiers a year to Iraq and Afghanistan, but it would be foolish and shortsighted to shut Camp Atterbury down for that reason, Coats said. Another conflict could break out at any time, and Camp Atterbury could then have to start mobilizing soldiers again, he said.

“A single breaking-news headline could change everything and result in a new mobilization mission,” he said. “No one can predict what the situation will be five years from now.”

And local military leaders have a goal to make Camp Atterbury into a major training hub. The post already attracts international training exercises where thousands of soldiers participate in war games, and wants to build more on that role. Coats said that he and other Indiana member of Congress will stress that training can be done 30 percent cheaper in Indiana than at many other military posts. Military installations are cheaper to operate here than bases on the coasts, he said.

Umbarger said he thought that Camp Atterbury and other Indiana military facilities stood a good chance of surviving the round of closures but said there were no guarantees.

“No one can say that any post is safe, because that’s just the nature of it,” he said.

Camp Atterbury however has several advantages, including a new rail spur that opens next year and a unique urban training environment at the Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations in Southeastern Indiana, Umbarger said. The joint posts have become a destination for cutting-edge training for soldiers, contractors and other civilians in realistic settings that include apartments, a hospital and a train station.

“A decade ago, no one had heard of Camp Atterbury,” he said. “Now everyone in the Department of Defense knows about Camp Atterbury.”

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