WARNER ROBINS, Ga. – As the Department of Defense prepares for its next round of determining which military bases should be scaled back or completely shut down, Robins Air Force Base recently got solid local financial backing to convince federal officials of its need here. Robins Federal Credit Union pledged $500,000 towards a strategic feasibility report that will outline necessities for keeping the base open. Until June 2004, the credit union will match dollar for dollar cash used for the study, said Buck Levins, RFCU's president/CEO. "This is a military town, there is a large population of active and retired military personnel who are heavily involved in employment, civic organizations, recreational activities and churches," Levins said. "We don't see this as a charitable donation. This is an investment in the future." So far, the credit union has pledged the most, with the total actual cash contributions totaling $150,000 from $400,000 pledges said Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Ron Smith of the 21st Century Partnership, a local non-profit organization made up of residents and businesses that champion to keep Robins Air Force Base a viable part of the community. Keeping the base from being downsized or closed involves a federal process called BRAC or base realignment and closure, which identifies U.S. military bases for closure or reduction. Since 1988, 97 military bases have closed and 43 have realigned under BRAC. The Bush administration has estimated that 20 percent to 25 percent of military bases are surplus, and that the Pentagon could save $3 billion a year by eliminating surplus facilities. A fifth round of BRAC is planned for 2005 and local leaders here are getting a jump on the funding that will be needed to prove to the Department of Defense that Robins has the capability to support a variety of military missions, the viability and effectiveness of the Air Logistics Center and the support afforded by the communities that support the Base, said Neil Suggs, resources co-chairman of the Warner Robins Industry Now Group (WRING), a group of small business owners that volunteer to educate the community about fund raising efforts. "We can't sit around and wait for outside sources," Suggs said. "The credit union is sending an important message that they're taking this effort very seriously. It's just another example of their willingness to help." Robins Air Force Base employs more than 24,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel and had a $1.1 billion net payroll and $444 million retiree payroll in 2002, according to the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center. Smith said the base has an economic impact in 90 counties throughout Georgia. With those numbers, Levins said the time is now for others to get serious about stepping to the plate. Indeed, U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon applauded Levins' challenge in a recent letter in the Macon Telegraph, saying, "Robins Federal members will see quite a return on this investment so long as others in Middle Georgia accept the Robins Federal challenge and make a prudent investment of their own." Since its founding in 1954, the credit union has had an occupational charter but converted to a community charter in 2001 mainly because of the uncertainty the air force base faced during the BRAC of 1995, Levins said. Today, the credit union has more than 124,000 members, $744 million in assets and serves 15 counties here. [email protected]

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