By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., July 15, 2011 – With two months left for the Defense Department to comply with the 2005 base realignment and closure plan, a related initiative -- joint basing -- already is paying off through closer interservice collaboration and the promise of future cost savings, officials here reported.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst was part of the first phase of the plan that consolidated 26 military installations around the country into 12 joint bases. The concept was designed to generate efficiencies, reduce redundancy, and ultimately, save taxpayer dollars.
“I think this joint base initiative is great,” said Army Col. Joseph Poth, the deputy commander here who helped to plan and execute the merger. “The logic is, if we can train together, if we can fight together, why can’t we run a base together?”
Joint basing brought big changes here when three installations -- McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Dix and Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst -- merged on Oct. 1, 2009, to become the Defense Department’s only tri-service base.
It was part of the first wave of joint-base consolidations. Also during Phase 1, Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek and Fort Story in Virginia merged to form Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. Fort Myer and the Marine Corps’ Henderson Hall in Virginia formed Joint Base Myer. Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and Naval Air Facility Washington, D.C., became Joint Base Andrews.
And thousands of miles away in the Pacific, Navy Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base formed Joint Region Marianas.
As McGuire, Dix and Lakehurst formed one giant base that stretches 20 miles east to west and encompasses 60 square miles of southern New Jersey flatlands and forests, each retained its operational identity and mission, Poth explained.
The Air Force, the lead service here, continues to provide global mobility and expeditionary combat support with its C-17 Globemaster III, KC-10 Extender and KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. The Army conducts soldier training and pre- and post-mobilization activities. The Navy designs and tests aircraft carrier catapult and arresting gear and other naval air support equipment.
Joint basing offers the three services the opportunity to share some of the costs of supporting these operations, said Air Force Col. John Wood, who took command of the joint base June 24.
In his new role, Wood has command and control of the 87th Air Base Wing and support responsibility for more than 80 tenant organizations referred to here as “mission partners.”
Arriving at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Wood was no stranger to joint basing. He helped Charleston Air Force Base and Naval Weapons Station Charleston merge to form Joint Base Charleston, S.C., as part of the second wave of joint-basing consolidations.
Other installations included in the Phase 2 mergers were the Navy’s Anacostia Annex and Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, which formed Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. Naval Station Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii became Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson in Alaska formed Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Lackland Air Force Base, Randolph Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston, Texas, formed Joint Base San Antonio. Langley Air Force Base and Fort Eustis in Virginia became Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
Wood said watching how Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and other first-phase installations handled the transition helped smooth the way at Charleston. Now, as commander of the tri-service base in New Jersey, he said he plans to continue fine-tuning the process by emphasizing teamwork, communication and inclusion.
To help in promoting these principles in his command structure, Wood recently welcomed Navy Capt. Andrew Butterfield as a second deputy commander to provide a Navy perspective to his command team.
Operating with two deputies in his organizational structure -- one Army and one Navy -- is a new concept, Wood acknowledged. “It’s different than the doctrine I have grown up with, but it has a lot of advantages and potential,” he said.
Much of the potential of joint basing will come in savings on contracts for services such ground maintenance and snow removal, Wood said. In addition, the joint base’s contracting workforce can operate more efficiently -- and presumably, more cost-effectively -- by awarding and managing a single contract for each service, rather than three.
“As we combine things, it is common sense to assume that we are going to have savings here, so we will continue down that path,” Poth said.
Wood said he is looking forward to seeing those cost savings, but that he knows they won’t be realized fully until contracts already in place expire and can be renegotiated. Meanwhile, he added, he plans to continue looking across the joint base structure to identify other ways to streamline operations and make them more efficient.
Wood and his leadership team say they are already seeing some of the other benefits of joint basing. The gates that once divided the installations are gone, enabling airmen, soldiers, sailors -- as well as Marines and Coast Guard members who have activities here -- to move freely around the joint base.
As they do so, they interact regularly, sharing everything from training facilities to housing, dining halls and morale, welfare and recreation activities.
Air Force Brig. Gen. William Bender, commander of the Air Force Expeditionary Center here, said that pays off in mission readiness.
“One of those benefits is the ability to rapidly and effectively integrate into joint environments when we deploy or when we are assigned to support missions both stateside and abroad,” he said. “Because we have the benefit of living and working in an integrated environment, we naturally ‘learn the language’ of our service counterparts and we learn what the other services bring to the fight, wherever that fight may be.”
But getting to that point wasn’t without its challenges, Poth conceded.
He remembered the angst some experienced during the transition and the town hall meetings the leadership regularly held to allay fears and clear up misconceptions.
To Poth’s surprise, some of the workers who took the merger the hardest were long-time Army and Navy civilian employees with strong loyalties to their services.
Installation leaders, led at the time by Air Force Brig. Gen. Gina Grosso, the first joint base commander, planned an elaborate and all-inclusive ceremony to officially stand up the joint base. Members of Congress, local mayors and current and past commanders from the three installations participated as a joint color guard marched, a tri-service team sang the national anthem and a band played a medley of the military service songs.
“As we mark this day, we want to welcome the newest members of our joint base team,” Poth said during the ceremony, recognizing the role the different services contribute to national defense with their active and reserve components and civilian workforces.
“Today is a day long in coming,” Poth said. “Together, we all join forces to become America’s premier joint warfighting base, capable of projecting air, land or sea power worldwide.”
Civilian employees from Fort Dix and Lakehurst formed up on the flight line, where each was inducted into the Department of the Air Force and presented an Air Force pin. After the ceremony, they returned to their work stations to find a letter from Grosso, personally welcoming them to the Air Force and the joint team.
Looking back over the consolidation during a Defense Department joint basing program management review conference in February, Grosso discussed the challenges of integrating support structures, but also the benefits of bringing the separate military cultures together at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
“You cannot calculate the takeaway from your military members living together and training together,” she said during the forum in Washington. “It’s a benefit you just can’t quantify.”