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Lebanon County to release defense strategy against threat of base closures

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FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. -- The threat of base closures has Lebanon County leaders organizing a plan of defense to save Fort Indiantown Gap.

The Department of Defense is asking congress to consider a new Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) plan.

It's not the first time the Lebanon County training center has been at risk, but those in the area hope it's the last.

The threat of closures seems to return every few years, and with Fort Indiantown Gap located in Lebanon County, local officials aren't taking the threat of closures lightly.

For many Lebanon County businesses such as Funck's Mini Mart, Fort Indiantown Gap is more than just a home for the National Guard.

Funck's Mini Mart manager Lynn Heffner said "it means our business thrives. I feel protected. You know it's a blessing, because I feel secure because they're right here at the Gap."

Once again, the Department of Defense says it's time to downsize the number of U.S. troops.

Lebanon County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth said "the one back in 1995 had a pretty significant impact in that the Gap transitioned from an Army base to now a National Guard base, but that turned out for the best. I believe we're now one of the top training facilities at the Gap in the nation."

While it hasn't happened yet, Woglemuth said the county enlisted a consultant as a defense strategy to protect the Gap from the threat of base closures.

"We're just trying to gather attitudes about the Gap, weaknesses that the Gap may have, strengths of the Gap obviously, and just be able to put all that together and make a good case," Wolgemuth said.

At a cost of $25,000, Wolgemuth said the base survey is money well spent as losing the training center could put the economic future of the entire community at risk.

"There is a significant level of employment, full time employment that's there. Those people live in this community. They spend money in this community, so I think any level of loss at the Gap would be a loss for the community and for the region," Wolgemuth said.

"We would not probably exist, I don't see how. I mean we get travelers, yes, and some people, but they take care of us and we take care of them," Heffner said.

County officials plan to release the results of the study to county commissioners in July.

Afterwards, Wolgemuth said the survey will be presented to people throughout Lebanon County, so that in the event of a closure, the entire community can come together to show its support.