Saturday, August 13, 2011

Contemplating Change, and Once Again, With Conflicting Emotions

Yesterday was a day of conflicting emotions.

Yesterday witnessed the carrying out of the death sentence on the 101 year-old New Orleans Naval Support Activity in Algiers, the death sentence first issued in 2005's initial BRAC (Base Re-alignment And Closure) Committee report.

My father trained at Algiers as a young man when the base was named U.S. Naval Station New Orleans.  One of our City Councilwomen met her future husband at that base when her future father-in-law served as its Commander in the early 1950s.

Pepper and I have gone to some wonderful parties and ceremonies and meetings over there on the West Bank, and enjoyed many of its amenities, especially the cheaper, tax-free gasoline near the Commissary.  Our friend, Gary, who commanded the Base in the 1990s, and who never misses a military gathering, was absent.  I suspect he could not bring himself to say goodbye and sit through that meaningful Navy tradition in which the Command's flag is furled, sleeved, and slowly paraded, with carefully measured steps, through two rows of enormous shells, and out of sight, by a Color Guard dressed in stiffly-starched Whites to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne," played as a dirge by the local Marine Band New Orleans.

It was very hard to watch, even though the Naval Reserve HQ had already moved to Norfolk several years ago and the Base's function had already been reduced to wrapping up and shutting down.  The Commissary has already moved to NAS/JRB Belle Chasse and the gas station and library are shuttered.  I suppose the next thing to disappear will be the enormous "NAVY" painted on the Base's water tower.

It's very hard to watch as a once-thriving community devolves into a ghost town.

But.  The ghost town won't last for long. 

One of the things that many of us fought for during the BRAC hearings -- especially retired Marine Major General David Mize -- was the concept of preserving a military presence at the NSA location in the form of the nation's first "Federal City," a public/private venture that would house multiple entities of the federal government and military in one location.  The Committee thought the endeavor worthwhile and gave the City and its proponents a time frame to make the agreements and financing happen.  They happened.

The first tenant of Federal City, the Coast Guard's Sector New Orleans HQ, opened its doors in August of 2010.  There are plans underway to develop base housing into a neighborhood community -- a Child Development Center already has a pretty hefty waiting list.  New Orleans' newest Type 2 charter school, the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy, held its first day of classes on August 9th; it will eventually accept students in grades 9 - 12, and will eventually be housed in renovated, historic NSA buildings. The YMCA is renovating the old gymnasium into a fitness center; retail merchants and restaurants are planning to open shop in the coming months.

(One of the biggest, unheralded perquisites for southeast Louisiana in the NOMMA presence is its newly-named Commandant, COL William Davis.  In his last billet before retiring this fall, Bill headed up a number of Marine Corps construction projects across the country, including the brand new Marine Forces Reserve [MARFORRES] and Marine Forces North Headquarters building in Federal City.  Bill brought the project in ahead of schedule and under budget -- quite a feat in this day of rampant cost-overruns and congressional gridlock.  Through his agreement to accept Command of NOMMA, we now get to keep Bill and his delightful family here for good!)

So, it's not all melancholy.

Yesterday also witnessed the Opening of The Marine Corps Support Facility Base in that beautiful new HQ building shepherded by COL Bill Davis.

As sad as it was to watch the Navy marching away, it was just as energizing to watch the MARFORRES HQ Battalion flag be unfurled and posted.  As new MARFORRES Commander Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer remarked, yesterday's ceremonies assured the continuation of a Marine Corps presence in New Orleans dating back to 1778, when the Marines first arrived on a ship named The Rattletrap.  For real.

Yesterday was also the first time I was able to see the magnificent palm tree that our Military Officers' Wives' Club purchased for the grounds of the new HQ building.  The palms look pretty majestic out there where all those Marines will pass daily on their way to work.  Our President has nicknamed the tree our "Recruitment Tree," in hopes that many of those Marines will tell their spouses about our plaque and our organization, and we can up the membership numbers a bit. 

We were allowed to place the plaque commemorating our donation wherever we chose.  Our clever ladies chose a spot that suggests we donated all of the palm trees instead of just one (and there are 3 more on the other side of the circle)!  Plus, the plaque is portable, so it can be re-located if a better spot comes up, or taken along for safekeeping during a hurricane evacuation.  Like I said, clever ladies.

So, in this era of "change," at least there is some "hope" connected to this transition.

To the Navy, I bid "Fair winds and following seas."  And to the Marine Corps, "Semper Fidelis."

And, because the Army likes to get in the last word, Hooah.

(P.S. -- the Saints won their opening pre-season game last night, sending the 49ers to defeat to the tune of 24-3!!  Who Dat!)


  1. Wow... thanks for sharing all of that. Military tradition is so awesome. I love to hear about it!

  2. I retired from and live near a "closed fort"... depending on your views... well, it has been hampered by money grubbers and various illegal actions. I can't bear to go out there... most of it is overgrown and trashy.... the "plans" for it were exactly as you state in your article here.

    The nearest city took over the golf course... so that is lovely... if you enter through that gate... which those who bought the huge house on headquarters hill do.... the Army Reserve portion is lacking... and it just goes downhill from there.

  3. BRAC 2005 caused me many an anxious moment as Cannon was on "the list." I would have moved on to greener pastures had the closing stuck but it did not. Then again, perhaps I would have been better off in said greener pastures, eh?

    I often wonder how much influence New Mexico's congressional delegation had on getting AFSOC to establish their Western HQ at Cannon, I suspect a LOT.

    All that said... it IS sad to watch a unit, ANY unit, furl their colors. That happened way too many times to me during the course of my career.

    Finally: GOOD on the N'Awlins Military Officers' Wives' Club... not the least of which is retaining "wives" in their formal name. ;-)

  4. Moogie, I just enjoyed the heck out of this post. It should be linked by some military blogs. Seriously.

    I'm an "outsider" when it comes to the US military. Of course, I've got boys that serve, but am in many, many (almost all) ways ignorant of the traditions, history of installations, etc.

    This was really, really good.

  5. I can understand the mixed emotions. Kind of ironic, but some of the Katrina refugees were sent to Lubbock and housed at the closed AF base there. But I still hate to drive by Reese and see it so empty. And I wonder who in NM had the pull to keep Cannon open and close Reese?

  6. Lou: I'd bet my last dollar on Udall and Bingaman.