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The Air Force chief of staff says Hill Air Force Base is safe from closure - at least until the turn of the millennium.

But beyond the year 2000, Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman would not predict. He met reporters in the Salt Palace Thursday shortly before speaking at the National Image Conference, attended by thousands of Hispanics.The Air Force's top officer served at Hill AFB shortly before he earned his promotion to general. From August 1981 to June 1982, the Vietnam veteran fighter pilot served as vice commander of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, stationed at Hill.

The northern Utah base survived a close call during the last round of closures, which was the last in three rounds of reviews by the federal government that started in 1993.

Asked by the Deseret News if he could predict the future of the base, Fogleman said, "I think the BRAC process is probably complete for this century." BRAC is an acronym (though not in the same order as the words) that stands for Base Closure and Realignment Commission, the body that recommends which bases should remain and which should be closed.

Decisions about shutting bases will be driven by "the outcome of the next national strategy review," he said. This will probably happen in 1997, he added.

If a review of America's overall military strategy is carried out next year, any "decisions that come out of that will be too late to impact the '98 budget," he said. The BRAC process probably would not make any changes until after the century turns, he said.

By then, speaking of the world strategic situation, Fogleman said, "You could end up with a different set of circumstances."

In fact, future recommendations could be to beef up military bases, rather than cut back, depending on what threats face the United States then, Fogleman said.

Responding to a query about the number of Hispanics in the Air Force, Fogleman said he was intending to ask the National Image Conference for "help with recruiting . . .

"In my view, Hispanics are under-represented (in the Air Force). On the other hand, we are making progress and events like this encourage me that we will continue to make progress."