The Formation of the Hill DDO Committee
In 1995 Hill Air Force Base (HAFB) was placed on the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list. The purpose of BRAC is to reduce unnecessary infrastructure in order to save money and better allocate Department of Defense resources. Major General Dale Thompson, Commander of HAFB, was very concerned about BRAC and the possible consequences to the Base. He shared his concerns with members of the Weber Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee, in particular the Chair, Vickie McCall. As a result Hill/DDO ‘95 was formed and charged with defending and protecting the missions of Hill AFB and Defense Depot Ogden (DDO).
Core members of the first committee included; Vickie McCall, a Realtor with Real Estate Exchange; Lee Carothers, Regional Manager of Utah Power and Light; Scott Trundle, Publisher of the Ogden Standard Examiner; Scott Parkinson, President of the Weber Chamber of Commerce; and Dee Livingood, President of Big D Construction. The Committee recognized the urgency and the scope of work that needed to be done and sought to broaden the Committee’s membership by recruiting additional members who brought unique talents and expertise to the table. It was also determined that to be truly effective it would be necessary to hire someone who understood the BRAC process, had military experience and was well respected as an effective leader. Major General (retired) Mike Pavich, the former Commander of McClellan AFB in Sacramento, California, had recently moved to Layton and agreed to become the Chief Executive Officer of Hill/DDO ’95. The Committee quickly grew to about 20 and had representatives from Weber, Davis and Salt Lake Counties. There were mayors, County Commissioners, bankers, public relations experts, business owners, legislators and representatives from the Governor’s office to include his Chief of Staff, Charlie Johnson. Marty Stephens, a then new Utah State Legislator later became the Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives. The Committee also benefited from the Congressional Delegation, in particular the leadership and experience of Congressman James V Hansen.
Initially, the Committee met once every few weeks, but soon realized how complicated and political the process was. There were many weeks when members of the Committee met three and four times on various issues. It was also determined that it would be in the best interest of the Committee to establish some autonomy and become a non-profit organization in order to raise funds. Bylaws were drafted and the Committee was approved for a 501(c)(3) designation. Funding was indeed critical to the success of Hill/DDO’95. The need to meet payroll, hire Washington lobbyists, travel to the BRAC meetings and publish articles and run ads was important to the success of the Committee. Early on, funding came from corporate donors, cities and counties. The office or Workforce Development and Economic Development from the Governor’s office also recognized the importance of this Committee and provided additional financial support.
Members of the Committee made several visits to Washington D.C–always accompanied by Congressman Hansen. Senator Hatch, Senator Bennett, Rep Karen Shepherd and Rep Bill Orton also understood the importance of saving both Hill AFB and Defense Depot Ogden (DDO) and offered their full support. The Committee traveled to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio to visit with the leadership of Air Force Material Command and Langley, Virginia for meetings with Air Combat Command. The Committee tried to learn from and reach out to every military organization doing business with Hill and/or DDO.
One of the major problems the Committee dealt with was the complacency and lack of knowledge as to the economic impact Hill AFB had on the State of Utah. Few understood the importance of Hill AFB and DDO to the overall mission of the Department of Defense. It was especially frustrating to see how little was known about the uniqueness of the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) and it’s impact on our nation’s ability to train and test sophisticated weapon systems. It has been referred to as Utah’s national military jewel. Early on there were members of Utah’s Congressional Delegation who failed to fully appreciate the logistical and strategic benefits of preserving and protecting Hill AFB. They certainly didn’t understand the impact to Utah’s economy. Because of the lack of familiarity both locally and on the national level, the Committee feared decisions would be made based on skewed statistics.
The Committee learned early on that the general consensus in Washington DC was that of the five AF Depots, Hill, McClellan, Kelly, Warner-Robbins and Tinker, Hill AFB, regardless of superior efficiencies and mission, would be the easiest base to close. Decision makers were pushing the politically expedient option.
Although, the Committee thought they truly understood and knew the value of Hill to the State of Utah and the defense of our country, it determined that if the case could not be made to save Hill, and if in fact, it was in the Nation’s best interest to close Hill, the Committee would support such a decision and move towards re-use of the land and facilities. However, as the group gathered the facts, they concluded that Hill AFB and DDO indeed, were the most efficient and had the most productive workforce of all competing bases. The issues were complicated, difficult and at times seemed overwhelming, but the Hill/DDO’95 Committee was committed to the cause and vowed to fight and protect Utah’s military bases.
The Committee benefited greatly from the leadership of Governor Mike Leavitt. The Governor recognized the importance of Hill and DDO to the State and ordered the University of Utah to conduct an economic impact study as to the importance of Hill AFB and DDO to the State’s economy. The results of this study suggested that if the State’s largest employer, Hill AFB, was to close it would resemble the economic times of the Great Depression especially in Weber and Davis Counties. The study was never released to the public because of concerns the negative impact might have on Utah’s economic development recruitment and retention programs. The report was of grave concern to Governor Leavitt and he vowed his full support and that of the Governor’s office to work with the Committee, the Legislature and the Congressional Delegation.
Worth mentioning, was a meeting organized by the Hill/DDO Committee. The group decided it was important to provide an informal forum whereby the Governor, the entire Congressional Delegation, and members of the Hill/DDO Committee could meet with senior AF Depot leadership. General Ron Yates, Commander of Air Force Material Command and Major General Lester Lyles, Commander of Hill AFB were invited to attend a dinner held at the home of Ms Deborah Tanzi. The informal setting provided opportunities for open discussion and candid questions/responses without fear of press repercussions. This covert meeting probably caused some neighborhood concerns as the Highway Patrol monitored all traffic and the limos certainly did not go unnoticed. It was determined that Governor Leavitt would be the spokesperson for the dinner discussion and he was charged with asking some critical questions. Mike Pavich wrote position papers and he and Rep Hansen coached Governor Leavitt in advance of the meeting. For the most part this was the first time the Delegation and certainly members of the Committee had the opportunity to see Utah’s new Governor in action. Governor Leavitt was at his best! His keen knowledge and relaxed demeanor provided an atmosphere that allowed the Generals to respond without fear of retribution. It was during this meeting that we learned if a depot was to be closed, General Yates would offer Hill AFB because it was most likely be the easiest.
Keeping the 388TH
On a number of occasions the Committee had met with people and dealt with issues that were both challenging, complicated and politically charged. As an example, Vickie McCall received a late night call from a DC insider suggesting that the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB would be moving to Cannon AFB, New Mexico within a couple of months. Vickie called Rep Hansen and asked him to investigate. To his surprise, the news was accurate. Rep Hansen and Senator Hatch summoned General Holly, Commander of Air Combat Command, to Washington DC to meet with the Utah Delegation. The movement of the fighter wing would have disastrous consequences to Hill and certainly would undermine the Base with on-going BRAC deliberations. If Hill was to remain viable it needed to have the depot, a fighter wing, and an active Reserve mission… in essence a three-legged stool. If one leg was removed the base/stool would tumble.
The situation was critical and General Holly was determined to consolidate the F-16s at one base–Cannon. Rep Hansen and Senator Hatch were acutely aware of the importance of the 388th to Hill and more importantly of the Utah Test and Training Range to General Holly and indeed the United States Air Force. It was at this meeting Rep Hansen put the “cards on the table” and told General Holly that if he was intent upon moving the 388th he would introduce legislation giving UTTR wilderness status. Rep Hansen, was a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, but also a ranking member of the Public Lands Committee. This was not an idle bluff and Congressman Hansen informed the General that his old friend Wayne Owens had previously introduced a bill to convert the test range into the Utah West Desert Wilderness Area. The range, which is bigger than New Hampshire and Vermont combined, could be turned into wilderness eliminating the military’s access and use.
General Holly responded to Congressman Hansen by saying: “You wouldn’t do that.” Congressman Hansen threw a draft bill down on the table in front of the General and said: “Here’s your copy. I’ll introduce it tomorrow.” Congressman Hansen went on to explain how the environmentalist community would love such an opportunity, and they would certainly have the support of President Clinton. Congressman Hansen continued by saying “I’m dead serious.” Pointing to Senator Hatch and Bennett he said: “These two senators will handle it in the Senate,” and both responded with nods of support. Congressman Hansen said “If I don’t hear from you by two o’clock, I’m gonna drop it in the hopper and personally send a copy to the White House.” The trump card was played and Utah and the nation won. General Holley backed away from pulling the 388th from Hill.
After months of waning, the BRAC commission decided to put all five depots on the closure list anticipating two would be closed. The Committee had to do more than just defend Hill they now had to compete and understand the competition. The nascent Hill/DDO 95 Committee had now become a group to be reckoned with. It was a sophisticated, knowledgeable lobbying group having substantial resources and a superb leader directing the group, General Pavich. The Committee also retained a marketing firm and hired an influential lobbying firm in Washington D.C. Doors opened, visits were made and the Committee learned that while the BRAC process was officially a non-political process, it was in the end a political game. Take the politics out of the equation and Hill AFB and Defense Depot Ogden would certainly survive.
During the BRAC process Alan Dixon, a BRAC Commissioner, inserted into policy that the economic impact of closing a base to a community must be taken into consideration when decisions are made. This consideration was particularly important to Utah.
When the BRAC Commissioners visited Utah, the streets were lined with school children beginning at the SLC airport all the way to Hill AFB. Officially, this should not weigh on the decision of the Commission, but the support of the Utah residents certainly registered and did not go unnoticed.
In the end, the BRAC commission convened in the Hart Building on Capitol Hill to announce the bases offered for closure. The Chairman put the names of the bases up on the screen in order of best to worst. Hill AFB ranked number one, followed by Warner Robbins, then Tinker AFB. Kelly and McClellan were destined for closure. The former Governor of Texas, George W. Bush, was said to have turned 15 different colors and said, “You can’t do that.” Everyone laughed.
The last obstacle in the process was President Bill Clinton. He was very concerned with California losing a base and began discussing privatization in place in lieu of closures. After all, California had 52 electoral votes and Utah had only 5. Moreover, Utah was the only state where Clinton came in third. Ross Perot actually had more votes than Pres Clinton. Clinton wanted to move 90% of Hill’s operation to McClellan under an executive order which would have effectively reversed the decision of BRAC. President Clinton made a statement at McClellan and said “I will find a way around the law.” Congressman Hansen’s staff immediately began writing an amendment into the Defense Authorization Bill citing legal precedent that would prevent the President from circumventing the BRAC process. Some members of the Utah Delegation were concerned about putting Utah in further jeopardy by pitting Hill against the Whitehouse. Congressman Hansen’s attitude was that Utah had no choice. Hill was good for America and it was critically important to the economy of Utah. Governor Leavitt felt the same way.
The Defense Authorization Bill
The 1995 round of closures was the closest Utah has come to losing Hill. If Clinton had privatized Hill’s workload and moved it to McClellan Hill certainly would have closed. Blocking Clinton’s privatization plan took a great deal of political wrangling. Clinton’s privatization plan was leaked to Congressman Hansen by Rudy DeLeon, who worked for the BRAC Commission. Some of the staffers convinced Rudy to show the memo to Congressman Hansen. Congressman Hansen got together with Duncan Hunter, Bill Johnson, and other Congressional colleagues and crafted an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that would keep President Clinton from acting outside the law to get around the BRAC closure of McClellan. The amendment was attached to Defense Authorization Bill and it passed through committee. Congressman Hansen found Democratic allies such as Solomon Ortiz and others that who were military minded and traded some favors with members of the Natural Resources Committee to get the House version of the bill passed.
The Senate passed its own version of the Defense Spending Authorization Bill. In conference, Senator John McCain from Arizona initially threw his support behind the Hansen Amendment for the final bill. After he spoke to President Clinton, however, he came back to the committee and warned if the Hansen language remained in the bill, the President would veto it. Senator McCain made a motion to remove the Hansen language from the Bill. Congressman Hansen remembers thinking: “You know what, just veto the damn thing. I’ve worked for 17 months on this and I’m going to stand tall. I did everything I could for the state of Utah. I fell on my sword 50,000 times to get to this, and we’re not moving, we’re not budging.”
Fortunately, the Democratic Senator from Georgia, Max Cleland, joined in the cause. Senator Cleland did not want the President working outside the process to intervene with base closures. With his support, the Conference Committee passed the bill with the Hansen amendment. Congressman Hansen recalls the Arizona Senator storming out of the committee meeting, slamming the door, and cursing. Senator McCain likes to get his way, according to Hansen. Congressman Hansen assumed the reason Senator McCain was so angry was because he had likely worked out a deal with the President to kill the Hansen Amendment in exchange for something else.
Soon thereafter, President Clinton sent some of his staff to meet in Jim Hansen’s office. They wanted to negotiate a compromise. Jim responded to the staffers: “Where’ve you been? We’ve seen you in the committee meetings whispering in the ears of the guys who were against us. But, why didn’t you come and talk to me? That would’ve been a lot easier than sitting there talking to Ike Skelton and those guys that want to support the President; then we could’ve gotten this thing resolved.”
Congressman Hansen sent the President’s staffers to talk to Bill Johnson, who was known to have a very short fuse. Bill told the staffers to get the hell out of his office. The staffers went to Speaker Gingrich after that. About an hour after they left his office, Congressman Hansen got this call: “Jim, Newt. I got a bunch of the guys from the White House up here wanting to compromise this thing. What should I tell them?” Congressman Hansen explained to Speaker Gingrich: “Well I’ll tell you what we told them. We told them to get the hell out of here.” Speaker Gingrich responded: “I’ll tell them the same thing.” Congressman Hansen added: “Tell them to go ahead and veto the bill.” Knowing the President would look ridiculous if he vetoed the Defense Authorization Bill for this one base, Congressman Hansen felt a veto would be impossible. Sure enough, the President signed the bill.
Credit to Mike Leavitt
A lot of credit for saving Hill AFB has to be given to Mike Leavitt. This issue was dropped into his lap abruptly after taking office, and he became a quick study as to the importance of Utah’s military bases. He articulated his arguments in an impressive manor and dedicated a great deal of time and resources to the cause. He volunteered Charlie Johnson, his Chief of Staff, to work with the Hill/DDO Committee. Governor Leavitt made the base closing issue his number one priority and encouraged the Legislature to do the same. The Governor’s work was masterful and without his efforts, Hill Air Force Base would not have likely survived.
While the work of the Governor, the Congressional Delegation and the Hill/DDO 95 Committee was ultimately successful in saving 23,000 jobs at Hill AFB, it was not able to save the Ogden Defense Depot in the 1995 round of base closures. The loss of DDO cost the community and State 1,200 jobs. The partnership between the Hill/DDO 95 Committee and the communities, the Governor, the Utah Legislature and the Congressional Delegation is to be credited for saving defense jobs and preserving a long history of military excellence in Utah.
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