RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) - The closing of the Joint Forces Command in Hampton Roads may not be as bad as expected, Virginia officials said Tuesday after their long sought-after meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military officials.
Gov. Bob McDonnell and the congressional delegation said some functions at the command, such as the modeling and simulation program, likely would stay put and that job losses may not be as dire as anticipated.
Virginia officials had sought the meeting since Gates announced Aug. 9 that the command would close and that defense contractors would be reduced by 30 percent over the next three years, which could cost Virginia up to 6,000 civilian and military jobs -- 3,900 of those at JFCOM.
The officials said they relayed their concerns that military officials did not give them a reason for the closing or an explanation of the expected savings, and their frustration in trying to meet with the Defense Department since the decision was announced.
"For 230 years, since the founding of this republic, Virginia and the United States military have had marvelous working relationship -- I would call it a love affair," McDonnell told reporters after the meeting at the Pentagon. "And so when we were blindsided on Aug. 9, frankly we were hurt."
The command, which has a $1 billion budget, has been targeted for closing as part a $100 billion plan to cut defense spending. The command's budget includes elements outside of Virginia.
Gates, who said the money is needed elsewhere, said the command had completed its mission of creating a joint U.S. military force.
McDonnell said Gates agreed to allow a state task force to be involved in discussion about how the closing would be implemented and allow a work group made up of northern Virginia congressional delegates to be involved in discussions regarding the reduction of defense contractors. There is a substantial defense contracting presence in northern Virginia.
McDonnell said he asked Gates to consider locating other commands in Virginia and to consider the impact the closing could have on the state's economy. Virginia is home to the Pentagon, the world's largest Navy base, numerous establishments and more veterans per capital than any other state.
While there were no guarantees, all agreed the hemorrhage of jobs that had been expected may not happen.
"I think the fear that we're going to lose all the jobs at JFCOM, I think has been put to rest," Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott said.
But that doesn't mean the delegation was pleased with everything it heard.
Republican Congressman Randy Forbes said Gates told the delegation his goal was to be "ruthless, and that was his word."
"If you've talked to those individuals" who could lose their job, he said, "they will tell you that the secretary's lived up to his goal at this particular point in time. And that's not a goal we should have for democracy."
Rep. Gerry Connolly said Gates told the group that Congress wasn't given an analysis about why the command was chosen for closure because "all too often analysis leads to paralysis."
"One understands that from often in the cabinet secretary's point of view, Congress is this pesky constitutional impediment to their doing their jobs, but it has to be a partnership. Give us a role," said Connolly, a Democrat. "Our demand for analysis to justify decisions is not unreasonable and must be met."
The command trains troops from all services for joint work on specific missions, coordinates combat operations with allies and uses powerful computers to simulate battlefield outcomes.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner said Virginia officials now seem to have Gates' attention. Hampton Roads will do its part, he said, but state officials must be involved.
"There is no community in America that is more military friendly than Hampton Roads," he said. "This community has felt let down by this lack of information and transparency in the process so far."
The meeting's results were good news to Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson. JFCOM houses most of its workers at a facility in the northern part of the city.
"I was really happy to hear the words 'world class,'" Johnson told WAVY News 10, "and that modeling and simulation is not only important to our defense but a cost saving measure as well."
Johnson was also relieved that Virginia voices will now be a part of the discussions regarding how the potential closing is implemented.
"The good news today is now Virginia will have that opportunity to be at the table, as the Governor so apply put it at his conference," said Johnson.
Lynn Carbonell, the owner Totoy's, a restaurant in northern Suffolk, told WAVY News 10 she hopes the somewhat positive news from Tuesday's meeting will ease the uncertainty felt by JFCOM workers, and that "everybody can maybe go back to normal and live their lives."
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