Utah's large number of returned Mormon missionaries who speak foreign languages may help strengthen Hill Air Force Base's chances of surviving closure.
At least that's what Utah military leaders and Gov. Mike Leavitt hope.The two have joined forces to pitch a plan to Department of Defense officials in Washington, D.C., that would move or make room for 1,200 jobs from the Defense Languages Institute.
The work, now done at a Monterey, Calif., annex of the San Francisco-based Presidio, would either be located at Hill Air Force Base or Camp Williams, where a Utah National Guard unit already specializes in languages.
"We want to use all of our unique assets to keep our bases operating," Leavitt said. "Utah is the perfect place for work like this."
Camp Williams is home to the nation's largest Army National Guard language unit. The 300th Military Intelligence Brigade has 692 Utah members who speak 34 languages among them.
Employees at DLI in California have heard the news and are nervous, a spokesman said.
"It's especially bad if you're not full-time military," said Sgt. Richard Tatum. "We just don't know who would transfer if something happened and who wouldn't."
More than 1,000 of the DLI employees are civilians, he said.
The Army will probably offer the DLI for closure this spring because costs of operating in California would probably be higher than in other states, said Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews, adjudant general of the Utah National Guard.
The California institute has 900 instructors, all civilian, who teach 22 languages and their dialects. As many as 5,000 students pass through its doors every year.
Leavitt says he'll take the proposal to "the highest level possible" in the Department of Defense while he is at a national governors conference in Washington, D.C., later this month.
Meanwhile, he plans to focus on another strategy that could also keep Hill from closing.
Leavitt wants to build a coalition with four other governors of states that have Air Logistics Centers, like one located at Hill. He hopes to convince the leaders that the best way to save their bases is a competition-based approach.
"But there are all kinds of other factors involved here and they all start with the letter `P' . . . politics."
If the Department of Defense allows each base to compete on its merits, Hill will win, he said. But if the battle becomes political, Utah could lose.