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Pentagon's long list of bases to close

Next month's proposal for the biggest-ever round of cuts could transform both the military and many communities.

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As the Pentagon prepares to embark on its first base closings in a decade, it is already clear that this round will be unlike any that has come before, both in its scope and its intent.

The Defense Department has made no secret of the fact that this year's list of suggested closings figures to be the biggest in history. But unlike past rounds, when the process focused primarily on paring down a bloated military, the goal this year is largely to recast the military.

For 50 years, the United States aligned its bases against the Soviet foe, enfolding critical air squadrons in the safety of the heartland, and supporting America's military heft at massive industrial bases.

Now, in what could be a boost for bases as far afield as Guam and as close as the Carolinas, the diffuse threats of a new century call for a strategy of flexibility and quick deployment to the far reaches of the world.

As a result, the list presented to Congress May 16 is expected to be not only a way to cut costs, but also a way to reflect the changing character and shape of the military's mission.

"That is unique to this round," says Tim Ford, executive director of the Association for Defense Communities here. "What they're trying to do is much more broad. It's a transformation."

The transformation goes well beyond base closures. Under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the military is in large part reinventing itself, shifting its emphasis from massive divisions toward smaller and more agile brigades. Base closures and realignments represent a way to make these changes adamantine, replacing iron-cast cold-war installations with a more malleable network.

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