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Workers Told Not to Panic Over Closures : Military: Commander says it’s unknown whether bases in the county will be involved in the next round of federal cutbacks.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Navy’s top brass in Ventura County on Tuesday told about 200 defense and engineering company employees to hold off panicking over next year’s round of federal military base closures.

Rear Adm. Dana B. McKinney, commander of the Point Mugu Naval Air Weapons Station and its sister base at China Lake, said it’s too soon to assume that either the Navy bases at Point Mugu or Port Hueneme could end up on next year’s list of bases scheduled for closure.

“At this point, ‘We don’t know’ is the best answer we can provide,” McKinney told the capacity crowd. “Even if we could speculate, we’re not going to do so. I think it would only be a disservice to the community.”

The admiral was joined by Capt. James Delker, commander of the Naval Construction Battalion Center at Port Hueneme, and Capt. John Scott Beachy, commander of the Port Hueneme division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

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The luncheon marked the first time that the top brass of Ventura County’s major naval facilities jointly attended a public forum to discuss the future of the Navy in the county.

“If there was some shock value in getting these three officers together, then so much the better,” said Bob Warnagieris, president of the Ventura County chapter of the International Test and Evaluation Assn.

“We didn’t bring these people together to raise memberships,” said Warnagieris, who helped organize the public forum. “We brought them together to let them know what’s on the line should one of these bases close.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Channel Islands chapter of the American Society of Naval Engineers, the Defense Service Industry Executives Assn. and the Ventura County BRAC ’95 Task Force.

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The top naval officers declined to answer questions from the workers who are concerned about their jobs. McKinney said that if they knew anything about next year’s Base Realignment and Closure process, they are barred from discussing the issue by order of the Pentagon.

After the meeting, McKinney said he agreed to appear before the group because it gave him a chance to try to lower public anxiety over the base-closing process.

“I initially had some apprehension (about coming), but I decided to speak in the end because it offered me a chance to calm some of these folks down,” McKinney said. “And, it gave me the chance to warn them about all the rumors and idle speculation that have been going around.”

During the forum, the officers were asked to describe the strengths and weaknesses of each base. While skirting the question about weaknesses, they pointed out that the bases’ strengths would make them less vulnerable to closure.

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Delker said that the Port Hueneme Seabee base is one of the nation’s two Seabee bases and that its sprawling 1,600 acres have become home to a large number of tenant commands whose missions are unrelated to the work of the Seabees.

Beachy said the surface warfare facility, which is primarily responsible for the testing and engineering of fleet weapons systems, is unique because of its proximity to a sea test range, a deep-water harbor and a close-by naval air station.

Beachy also said the Navy continues to move toward sophisticated weapons systems, which need his staff’s expertise.

As for Point Mugu, McKinney said the base is a launching pad to the Navy’s 36,000-square-mile sea test range--a stretch of ocean needed to fire missiles and test other weapons.

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“We are talking about a facility that cannot likely be duplicated and most likely could not be reacquired,” McKinney said.

Members of the federal base closure commission will be appointed by President Clinton in January and the Defense Department will hand the commission its recommended hit list in March. The commission is scheduled to make its decision in July.


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