Advisers to a Utah senator and congressman say their bosses warned supporters of Hill Air Force Base the battle to keep it off closure lists would turn political.
"It's virtually indisputable that the process has been politicized," said Bob Lockwood, military adviser to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "That's what the players here expect, and Orrin made that clear."But one adviser says all hope isn't lost - despite leading supporters' private prediction the base will be a big target in 1995 hearings.
"Is Hill the prime candidate for closure? I don't think so. I think that distinction would have to go to the base in Sacramento," said Steve Peterson, Rep. Jim Hansen's military specialist.
Members of Hill/DDO '95, the group leading the effort to save the base, returned from a June visit to Washington frustrated by the lukewarm reception they received from high-ranking defense leaders.
"They came home seeing what we meant," Peterson said, admitting politics were playing a bigger role than what the group might have expected.
Soon after, Hill/DDO wrote a letter to a consultant it had hired to help sway thinking in the Capitol. It described the base as a "prime closure candidate" for the 1995 hearings.
Subsequently, Hill/DDO changed its strategy from attempting to influence the national debate on military depot workloads to working solely for Hill with the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
In the end, it will be that body that decides the fate of the base.
Supporters and advisers alike have said the base will remain open if the commission uses logic and data. To wit: Hill would be the most expensive Air Logistics Center in the nation to close, and it is the most cost-efficient.
But no one can predict how heavy political maneuvering will affect the commission's debate, Peterson said.
Few argue the 1993 round of hearings weren't marred by political skirmishes.
The Air Logistics Center in Sacramento was on the closure list, but then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin removed it the night before discussions began. "You can point to that as the best example of how it works here," Peterson said.
Base spokesman Len Barry said news of the Hill/DDO letter set off a "conflagration" of speculation among base employees.
"Any little spark of news, whether negative or positive, does that. It's obviously a time of concern here." However, he emphasized that base commander Gen. Lester Lyles was "optimistic and positive" about the future of the base. Lyles refused to comment specifically about the prediction in the letter.
"He felt it wasn't appropriate," Barry said. "The truth is, only BRAC (the closure commission) knows about the future of the base; only BRAC will decide."
Hill Air Force Base, home to the Ogden Air Logistics Center, is one of Utah's largest employers.
Total military personnel 4,719
Total civilian employees 11,303