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WILL HILL BECOME A.F.-NAVY DEPOT?

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Top Air Force brass reportedly like the idea of possibly making Hill Air Force Base a joint Air Force-Navy depot, which could help save it from closure next year.

"They told us we were preaching to the choir, and that we need to focus on the Navy. And we're going to do that," said Vickie McCall, chairwoman of Hill/DD0 '95, a group of business and civic leaders trying to help save Hill and Defense Depot Ogden.The group met Wednesday with Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall and top Pentagon officials who will recommend which bases should be shut down in next year's round of base closures.

Mike Pavich, president of Hill/DDO '95 and a retired two-star general, said Widnall herself was noncommittal about the idea of somehow making Hill a joint-service depot.

"But she said it is an idea that has merit, and should be looked at," he said. "That's all we expected."

The Hill/DDO group contends that Hill - Utah's single largest employer - can perform repairs on aircraft more efficiently and cheaply than most depots and that different arms of the military should save money by combining work at such facilities instead of duplicating them.

Hill already has contracts for about $30 million a year worth of work on Navy aircraft, so the group contends it is a logical choice as a dual-use facility.

The group planned to meet Thursday with Vice Admiral William C. Bowes, commander of the Naval Air Systems Command, to make a similar pitch and to meet with officials of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

That commission has said it would like to close two of the Air Force's five air logistics centers next year, which puts Hill at risk.

Pavich said the group learned more details about how the Air Force is deciding which facilities to nominate for closure.

In the past, each command within the Air Force could nominate bases for closure. But they will not this year. "They will just submit data to the Pentagon," Pavich said, adding that a committee of 13 top officers will then recommend closures.

The Hill/DDO group met with those officers Wednesday to push for saving the most cost-effective depots, which they say includes Hill.

Pavich said officials said the Air Force should have recommendations for closures sometime in October.

The Hill/DDO group also met with Utah's members of Congress. "We are asking them to make contacts that we can't," McCall said.

But the group found it could make one contact - with Widnall - that Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, was accidentally prevented from making on Wednesday.

He planned to join the group in its meeting with her but was stopped at the Pentagon gate he normally enters because of construction. He was told to find another gate. By the time he did, his beeper sounded warning he had a vote on the House floor - so he left an aide to represent him.

Hansen is a member of the House Armed Services Committee - which oversees the military - and officials were horrified that he had been given a runaround.

"I had three generals apologize profusely to me," said Hansen aide Steve Peterson.