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Enid, and other military communities, brace for defense cuts

Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
October 31, 2012

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Defense sequestration is one clunky way to say less spending. The military would lose about 500 billion dollars over the next ten years, forcing cutbacks. But no one really knows, or won’t say, what this all means. In an Oklahoma community home to a medium sized Air Force base, the uncertainty has people on edge…

Arriving in Enid, it doesn’t take long to know why you’re there. Jets roar, and in a quick glance, I could spot a handful in the air.

They say the windy conditions of the city of about 50-thousand help get pilots ready for anything. Now, Enid residents are concerned and curious about whether the base will survive the half trillion dollars in defense sequestration cuts.

Inside the café at the Jumbo supermarket in town, about 15 people were already lined up at the lunch counter. The supermarket is along a long and busy stretch of fast food joints, local cafes, shops, and offices. And the seating area was filling up. Treva Swanson was there with her husband, soup and a sandwich for lunch.

“Means a lot to Enid, we get a lot of our income from the military. And I just think they do a real good job.”

She says whenever she and her husband are out in Enid, they run into military members from Vance, whether it’s Walmart, or any of the local diners or restaurants.

“If they close, they close Enid. Because they’re one of the bigger ones, I know we’ve got oil companies here and everything, but still the military is a big part of it.”

Again, it’s impossible to know what would actually happen if and when the sequestration cuts go into effect. And there is still that if…President Obama, in the third presidential debate last week, said this:

“First of all, the sequester’s not something I proposed, it’s something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

Experts aren’t even sure how either presidential candidate could unilaterally stop the cuts, since President Obama signed the sequester passed through the House and Senate.

Okay, even if we knew what bases would shrink or close altogether, it’s difficult to get a firm grasp on the economic impact. But it could be monumental. A George Mason University study found the state could lose up to 16-thousand jobs over time, both direct and indirect, because of the cuts. Michael Cooper is chairman of Oklahoma’s Strategic Military Planning Commission, created by the Legislature about 10 years ago…

“We have five installations in our state, so trust me, everybody across the US is really looking to this. Usually they’re the highest per capita income jobs, the largest employer in some areas, particularly that’s the way it is in Oklahoma.”

CSC is the contractor for the Vance base. They just say they’re closely monitoring the situation. The latest economic impact study shows about a 234 million dollar boost to the local economy every year. I couldn’t get on base, and really everybody is quiet about the effects. But still, outsiders wonder.

“This is new territory, we’ve never been in this position. We don’t really know what effect it would have. I don’t think the military people I’ve talked with expect that it would be a complete loss, but they’re as clueless as the rest of us as to what might happen.”

Back inside Jumbo, Steven Close of Enid had just sat down for lunch with his wife…

“If the base is reduced in size, it’s probably something that can be managed. If it causes a base closure, then I think it’s an open question as to what would happen.”

The cuts, if they do come, could start as early as January. About 25-hundred people live or work at Vance. They need places to shop, eat and entertain themselves. With a relatively small base, there aren’t a whole lot of options…a base exchange, kinda like a mini Walmart, some restaurants, a bowling alley. Most of the business comes outside the bases’ gates. Here’s Enid’s Assistant City Manager Joan Riley

“It always brings up some anxiety any time you start looking at the possibility of cutbacks like that. I think that right now, things are more focused on what’s going to happen next week in the election, and where the cards fall after that.”

If the deck gets shuffled and Vance ends up in the short stack, many fear Enid will lose a vital piece.

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