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UTAH, NEVADA MISS DEFENSE GROUP MEETING.

Byline: Charles F. Bostwick Daily News Staff Writer

Utah and Nevada officials skipped last week's Phoenix gathering that was the first meeting of an organization intended to help retain military jobs in five Southwestern states.

Southwest Defense Alliance organizers say Nevada officials have indicated they will participate in the lobbying effort, but Utah leaders may take some wooing. To encourage them, the alliance will meet next in Salt Lake City.

``We have embarked on the most significant realignment and consolidation of defense resources for the Southwest region of the U.S. this century,'' U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas said after his return from the Phoenix meeting. ``We must work together to see that the nation's interests are served by using our superior Western ranges and labs, such as Edwards and China Lake, to provide the most cost-effective research, development, test, evaluation and training our military needs for the future.''

The Southwest Defense Alliance is an organization of civic and political leaders aimed at supporting the Southwest Defense Complex, 12 bases in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah that are a mix of research, testing and training facilities with laboratories and land, sea and air ranges.

As the U.S. military establishment shrinks, officials in California and elsewhere are worried about losing bases, defense projects and personnel bit by bit to other regions because those other areas have more political clout. So they are doing some political organizing of their own to promote what they say are the real advantages the Southwest has over East Coast bases: better weather, uncrowded airways and open space.

The challenge has been to convince leaders in the other states that the alliance is not aimed at benefiting California alone, organizers said.

``There was trepidation that it was an 800-pound California gorilla looking to steal somebody else's banana,'' said Ventura County Supervisor Judy Mikels, one of the participants.

The Phoenix meeting concluded with a decision that the attendees would return home to name delegates with authority to represent their state in the organizational conference Oct. 8-9 in Salt Lake City.

Howard Brooks, executive director of the Antelope Valley Board of Trade and a meeting attendee, called the Phoenix gathering successful.

``There was a lot of enthusiasm to put together the alliance,'' he said.

Mikels said she hopes the alliance can be organized soon because defense cuts mean some bases will lose military units, jobs and projects to other bases even if there is no formal base realignment and closure.

``We're all saying yesterday was not soon enough,'' she said. ``Some of us believe after the November elections we'll start seeing a call for a BRAC. If not, there's going to be continued downsizing.''

The California bases in the proposed complex are Edwards Air Force Base, China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center, Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center, Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Air to Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms and the Fort Irwin National Training Center.

Other bases included in the complex are the Yuma Proving Grounds and Marine Corps Air Station in Arizona, Naval Air Station in Fallon and the Weapons Tactical Center and Electronic Warfare Ranges at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the Utah Test and Training Range, and the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

In a June 18 prelude to the Phoenix conference, congressional representatives from all the alliance states except Utah met with Jacques Gansler, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, and Patricia Sanders, the Pentagon's director of testing and evaluation, to discuss the Southwest Defense Complex.

The Defense Department officials made no commitments to the complex concept, but congressional staffers described the meeting as positive.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 12, 1998
Words:611
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