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SENSIBLE PLAN FOR BASE CLOSINGS

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Members of a private Utah group are working to prevent Hill Air Force Base from being included on the next round of base closures. They have a simple and sensible plan: Combine operations and let the Hill maintenance depot - the Air Logistics Center - do work for other branches of the armed forces in addition to the Air Force.

That idea makes sense, not just because it would benefit Hill, but because it would be more efficient for everybody, would save tax money and would be the best use of existing facilities.If military bases have to be closed - and they do - the operations ought to be consolidated at the remaining bases without regard for whether the work is done for the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. The only criteria ought to be who can do the best job.

This is the argument that the private group - Hill/DDO '95 - is making this week to under-secretaries and deputy secretaries of defense and to Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall.

Some might argue that the same logic being used on Hill's behalf could be applied to other installations. But Hill has several advantages.

First, the base already is involved in some work for other branches of the military. Hill does about $30 million worth of repairs each year on Navy jet fighters and about $2 million in adjustments to Army missile systems. That kind of work could simply be expanded.

Such contracts have come to Hill in the first place because the base demonstrated that it could do the work at less cost. That ought to be the chief requirement in all cases.

Consolidation of support services has been talked about for years but has been frustrated by the separate traditions of the armed forces, by turf battles, and interservice jealousies.

Such conflicts played a major role in last year's decision to close most of Tooele Army Depot despite its brand new $110 million truck repair facility, while keeping open antiquated and more costly truck repair facilities for the Marines in California and Georgia.

That lack of cohesion and sharing was widely decried at the time. With a shrinking military budget due to the end of the Cold War, the United States cannot afford to support armed service rivalries.

It made no sense in the Tooele situation and ought not to become a factor in deciding the fate of Hill and other installations being studied for possible inclusion in the next round of closings set for 1995.