Amid reports that another round of naval Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) hearings may be on the horizon, one of the candidates for U.S. Congress in the 4th congressional district has launched an initiative aimed at marshaling community support to protect Naval Station Mayport from possible closure.
Businessman Steve Kaufman – a retired naval commander who was once stationed at Mayport – has launched “Moored at Mayport” (www.mooredatmayport.com) to spotlight the base’s strategic importance. Following recent statements by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus saying that not only was he in favor of another round of BRAC hearings but that all bases would be on the table for possible closure, Kaufman says now is the time for local leaders to reach out to the former cabinet secretaries, military leaders and prominent citizens who will likely comprise the BRAC commission. Such an initiative is critical, he said, in light of concerted efforts to remain open by other naval ports in states such as Virginia
“Virginia’s goals are to consolidate as much Navy as possible, and you better believe there’s somebody somewhere doing a cost-benefit analysis saying, ‘How much do we really need Mayport?’” Kaufman said in an interview with the Recorder. “Moored at Mayport will make sure that those people know of the strategic value of Mayport to the country’s defense.”
With nearly 3,500 acres, 14,000 active duty personnel and both sea and air operations, Naval Station Mayport is the third largest naval facility in the United States. Yet Kaufman believes many local residents aren’t fully aware of the base’s importance to national security.
“(Local residents) know Mayport’s there and they’re grateful,” Kaufman said, “but they don’t see how it fits into national defense and southern border. You can’t look at a map and not see how strategically placed Jacksonville is from a national security position.”
Ships based out of Mayport are regularly deployed to the Caribbean and South America along the nation’s southern border, Kaufman said, playing an important role in national security efforts. They also play a major role, he added, in disrupting the flow of illegal drugs making its way into the county.
“I can’t think of a time when we send ships south that they don’t interdict at least one big drug bust,” Kaufman said.
In addition to Mayport’s importance from a military perspective, Kaufman said the economic impact of the base closing would be felt across Northeast Florida.
“I’m a small business person – I think about the small businesses that served me as a sailor,” said Kaufman, who also serves on the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s Military Issues Committee. “The economic impact will have a ripple effect throughout the whole city, the whole region.”
Mike McGrath, executive director of the Jacksonville Area Ship Repair Association (JASRA), agreed. “We understand the importance of this issue, as ship repair jobs and skills sets in our area are already under pressure,” said Kaufman, noting that JASRA has joined the Moored at Mayport initiative. “Our members would be devastated if we lost Mayport….”
Preparing for the future
The last round of BRAC closures occurred in 2005; at that time, two dozen bases were closed and another two dozen realigned. According to recent media reports, some officials predict a new round of BRAC hearings won’t happen until 2021. Others suggest they could happen as early as 2019.
Some observers contend they won’t happen at all, and suggest that Kaufman is alarming residents unnecessarily.
“There’s a definite school of thought this will never happen,” Kaufman acknowledged. “People tell me, ‘You’re just stirring the pot for no reason.’ But I was here when we lost Cecil Field (to BRAC closures) and all of the same things that were said then are being said now.”
Kaufman noted that when Cecil Field was closed in the 1990s, the Navy hadn’t even included the base on its recommended list of facilities for possible closure.
“The BRAC commission just reached out and grabbed it,” he said.
To prevent a repeat of that scenario, Kaufman said, Moored at Mayport plans to organize events, community meetings and possibly lobbying trips to make sure key decision makers understand the base’s significance.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” Kaufman asked. “If I’m wrong (about BRAC closures), then we have just reminded ourselves what an incredible strategic jewel we have in our backyard.
“But if I’m right – my goodness, we better be starting now.”