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MacDill likely to keep commands, Army chief says

Although MacDill Air Force Base is losing an F-16 fighter wing, its two other large tenants, Central Command and Special Operations Command, probably will remain at the base, Army Secretary Michael P.

W. Stone predicted Tuesday.

Stone said next year's round of base closures probably will not affect the two MacDill commands because moving them from Tampa would be too costly.

"I would be really surprised if either of thosecommands would relocate," he said in a meeting Tuesday with the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times. He visited the Tampa Bay area for briefings at MacDill and a meeting with officials at Olin Ordnance, a St. Petersburg defense contractor.

A base closure commission decided last year to close MacDill's runway and move the fighter wing to Arizona. Since then, members of the MacDill Response Team, a community booster group, have said they are afraid the commands also will leave MacDill. That probably would lead to closure of the base.

But Stone's comments Tuesday suggest that MacDill may have a bright future as an administrative base. Although Stone doesn't have direct authority over MacDill, he oversees Army bases and would probably have a significant voice in any decision about where the commands will be.

Central Command (CentCom), which directed the U.S. effort in the Persian Gulf war, oversees military operations in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and Northeast Africa. Special Operations Command oversees Rangers, Navy SEALS, psychological warfare and other special forces. The commands have more than 1,400 people at MacDill.

Although the military has discussed moving CentCom to the Middle East, Stone said it probably won't. With the military shrinking by up to 30 percent by 1995, "I don't see any justification for having commanders in chief located outside the United States," he said.

The closing of MacDill's runway will be an inconvenience for officials at the commands, but the runway isn't vital because nearly all of their troops are headquartered at other military bases, Stone said.

"I don't think the runway is a critical factor" for them, he said. "It's a pretty big and expensive airfield for just administrative purposes."

Under current plans, the airfield and the surrounding land would be transferred to a federal, state or local agency in about two years. The area around the two commands on the eastern side of the base would remain military property.

Nobody is sure what will happen to the runway. Tampa officials have said they would like to see it used by both military and civilian aircraft. The commands could still use it, and the airport could be home to cargo, maintenance or manufacturing companies.

But a consultant's study said it could be difficult to attract those companies. There are dozens of airports across the nation competing for the same business and some airports have offered companies millions of dollars in tax breaks.

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