Beale too unique for military hit list |

Beale too unique for military hit list

Some nice folks from Yuba County visited us last week to see if we could help save Beale Air Force Base.

It seems the federal government wants to save a few bucks and is thinking of closing some military bases. You’d think those decisions would be based on … I don’t know … need … versus what’s best for a local economy, but they aren’t. It generally comes down to which congressman or congresswoman has the biggest political muscle.

According to the official timetable, the president is supposed to appoint nine people to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission by March 15. That commission will be handed a list of criteria to be used in the selection and submit its recommendations to the president by Sept. 8. Congress would ultimately vote on the closures before its Christmas break.

As you can imagine, military bases mean a great deal of money to those communities hosting them. With 12,800 “direct and indirect” jobs, Beale is the largest employer north of Sacramento all the way to the Oregon border. The payroll is $194 million and change. The total economic impact of Beale has been estimated at $1.2 billion in the eight-county area, according to base supporters.

There are another 20,000 or so retirees from Beale living in a 50-mile radius of the base, many of them here in Nevada County.

If you’ve ever been to Marysville, you know how much it needs Beale. As bad as things look there sometimes, imagine Marysville without Beale. And even with Beale next door, Yuba City has a terrible reputation with Rand McNally, which named it the worst city in America some years back. I was there at the time and can tell you first-hand there are worse places to live.

Economic impacts aside, I think Uncle Sam needs to keep Beale open because its mission is pretty cool, so far as military missions go.

Beale is home to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, which includes the U-2 high-altitude spy plane and the RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned spy plane. If you’re going to spy on someone, or train to spy on someone from the sky, you need clear weather. Beale has some of the best flying weather in the world with an estimated 300-plus clear days per year. So take that, Rand McNally. The base also features 40,000 acres of unencroached land, airspace, broadband width or nightline intrusion and is geographically located midway between the U.S.-Canadian and Mexican borders of the Pacific Coast, according to the Save Beale Web site. I suppose they point that out just in case the Canadians or Mexicans think we’re not watching.

Beale is also home to something called PAVEPAWS (Phased Array Warning System). You can see it from the highway. It’s a big mother. Even bigger than my Associated Press satellite dish out in the parking lot. It’s designed to let us know when the Russians are coming, once the Russians find enough gasoline to get here. I’ve been waiting for the Russians to come my entire life. My dad even built a shelter under the garage, anticipating the Red Invasion that never came. I learned to smoke and drink in that shelter, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

Beale officials have promised to give Nevada County residents at least a five-minute head start over Placer or El Dorado counties if the Russians, or that North Korean nut bag, ever try some funny stuff.

That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but when the missiles start flying, you’ll thank your lucky stars you had a chance to eat more ice cream. When the sirens go off, head to Cold Stone Creamery for one of those hot waffle cones. I recommend the mint chip.

Camp Beale opened in 1943 and was used to train the 13th Armored, 81st and 96th Infantry Divisions. During WW II, Beale was home to 60,000 soldiers, a prisoner-of-war encampment and a 1,000-bed hospital. For 23 years, the base was also home to the SR-71 Blackbird, one of the slickest and fastest jets I have ever seen. A few years ago I got to fly in a tanker as it refueled an SR-71 somewhere above the Oregon border. I remember sitting back with the boom operator as the sleek, black jet climbed through the clouds below to connect the tanker’s fuel boom. It was an amazing thing to see.

The Save Beale people said Gov. Arnold will have lots to say about which California bases stay open and which ones close. It seems Bush would much rather hang out with Arnold than Barbara Boxer or Diane Feinstein, and I can’t say as I blame him. So you should send Arnold a note, or call him in Sacramento.

Tell him to keep Beale off the hit list and remind him that we’d rather have Beale than a 40,000-acre Dale Webb retirement community of condos, golf courses and box stores.


Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299,, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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