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Tough cuts for Fairbanks

The military has played a major role in Alaska social and economic life for as long as I can remember.

When I was a boy in Fairbanks in the Fifties, about one in five Alaska residents was in the service. And more than 40 percent of the babies born in Alaska had fathers in the military.

When I started high school, military payrolls and the earnings of civilian employees at defense agencies accounted for almost one-third of the income of Alaskans. GI pay day was the most important day of the month for Fairbanks and Anchorage merchants. And for local police faced with hordes of single young men looking for a good time in bars advertising "enchanting hostesses" and "exciting dancers."

When I went away to college in the East, I was surprised I almost never encountered servicemen unless they were military recruiters.

I accepted what I saw of the military in Fairbanks as the norm and the future.

Now the future is taking another shape. Air Force brass say they are prepared to transfer all the F-16 fighters at Eielson AFB to Anchorage. This would save the Air Force money -- and the money saved would come out of the pockets of Eielson employees and Interior merchants.

The Alaska Congressional delegation has promised legislation that will prevent the Air Force from moving the F-16s. This would be a parochial interest trumping national strategy but who knows, maybe the legislation will pass.

The writer Peter De Vries said reality is that which won't go away no matter how hard you try to make it go away. Reality is those who direct American military policy are convinced the services have to get smaller -- and less expensive. We can't afford an oversized force with rampant inefficiencies in an era when government is going to do less because of the national debt.

Expanding the military in Alaska was easy -- just write a check. Contracting the military is not going to be easy -- as Fairbanks is about to find out.

-- Michael Carey