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BRAC looking for uniqueness

John Schmidt remembers well the days when he could not mix politics and his profession.

"Active-duty military are prohibited from participating in any kind of politics," said the former U.S. Marine Corps colonel.

The prohibition was so strict that - in the wake of relief efforts after

Hurricane Andrew slammed south Florida in the early 1990s - Schmidt and others had to seek a legal ruling to allow military personnel to operate portable generators are a polling place during a local election.

"We couldn't have done that without the legal ruling allowing it," he said.

But Schmidt is no longer on active duty. He is a vice chancellor for student affairs at Troy

State University. And, as an appointee to a newly formed statewide committee, Schmidt is poised to do more than simply mix politics and his military background.

Schmidt is one of about 40 members of Alabama's Base Realignment and Closure Committee. The committee was created this year by the Legislature and is chaired by the mayor of neighboring Ozark. The group's ultimate goal is to position Alabama to protect its military presence today and in the future.

"I really applaud the Legislature for their far-sighted thinking," Schmidt said.

The Alabama BRAC, as it's called, is a direct response to concerns about military base realignments and closings around the country. "The closings began in the 1990s as cost-savings measures at the end of the Cold War," Schmidt said.

And, Congress continues to reevaluate the "landscape of the American military defense," he said, looking for opportunities to consolidate; to close; to save money. "So you want to prepare yourself

so you're not on the list," Schmidt said.

So the BRAC was formed. Its members include representatives of Alabama's congressional delegate; a gubernatorial designee; 11 mayors, with heavy representation from the Wiregrass area; representatives of 11 Chambers of Commerce, including Schmidt as Pike County's only representative; non-military representatives from each of Alabama's military installations; the Alabama Adjutant General; director of the Alabama Development Office; the state legislative leaders; and the lieutenant governor.

Their task is to define what makes Alabama's in the national defense unique, as opposed to the other 50 states. And then their task is to articulate that uniqueness to the public; to Congress; and to the military leaders who ultimately will chart the course for military growth in the future.

At stake is a major economic force in Alabama.

With Fort Rucker in Ozark - the U.S. Army's aviation training center; Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery; military arsenals and chemical munitions facilities in Huntsville and Anniston; and a large U.S. Coast Guard presence in the Mobile area, the military's impact probably outweighs the highly touted and growing auto industry. For comparison, consider this: Fort Rucker, some 40 miles south of Troy in Ozark, employees 12,000 people., with annual earnings of $321 million. The Mercedes plant nearly Tuscaloosa employees about 4,000, with an annual payroll of $174 million.

Fort Rucker has an estimated $970 million annual economic impact on this region, and any changes to that facility could be felt in cash registers and pocketbooks right here in Pike County.

So this is a charge to be taken seriously. "As we speak today, I think we're fine," Schmidt said. "But you can get surprised."

The point, as he said, is to be prepared

so Alabama can fend off any "surprises."

Stacy Graning is publisher of The Messenger. She can be reached at 670-6308 or via email at stacy.graning@troymessenger.com.