Two years ago, Geo and I went on vacation to Orlando with friends. We knew it was going to be our last "just us" vacation for a while. He wanted to show me the Orlando Naval Training Center where he and some friends of mine were once stationed back in the late 80's. It's where all the new navy seamen went for boot camp. "This place is huge!" He told me about the the Orange Blossom Trail (a.k.a. the OBT). He said the base commander was always telling the young recruits to stay away from the OBT because it's filled with hookers and booze and tattoo parlors. Dumbass. These are sailors! Hello? That's their life! So we drove from Kissimee to downtown Orlando. We drove around for fifteen minutes in circles. He kept muttering different street names and looking for landmarks. "I swear the base gate was here!" he kept saying over and over. We drove down a dark street in what looked like a new neighborhood development. He pulled out his trusty map and looked at the street signs. His face went blank. "Well," I asked, "where is it?" He looked around at the staked off sand dunes and said, "We're here."
There was no evidence a base ever existed.
Orlando NTC was a relatively new base (commissioned in 1968) and was ordered to be closed by the 1993 BRAC commission. The last class graduated from the NTC on December 17, 1998. The base was around for only thirty years. Orlando has been utilizing the 1,100 acres that NTC once occupied to boost the local economy.
Feeling depressed, he said, "Well, at least I can take you to the OBT. That place is crawling with sleaze." He kept mentioning two particular bars he haunted back in the day. One had a plane looking like it crashed into the wall. We drove down to OBT and made a left turn. Ever been to a ghost town? Almost every building down the trail was either boarded up or closed. We saw at best two topless bars, one tattoo parlor, and a few corner bars. Geo's face told me everything. This was not what he was expecting to see. We did find his one haunt - the one with the plane. The building was there but the establishment was now defunct. It looked like a car wash was being built in what was the parking lot. We drove for about five miles before we found signs of civilization again.
"Let's just go." he said in disgust.
I felt bad for him. He was in the military for ten years. Almost every base he was ever on was now closed and converted to business centers. The only base still alive was the submarine base in Groton / New London, CT. A whole decade of his existence was being erased one closure at a time.
I read about the 2005 BRAC recommendations when they came out back in May. I kind of knew NAS Willow Grove was not going to be spared this time around. It is a lot of land and developers are just chomping at the bit. I also figured the state was going to fight like a cornored badger to keep it open. I also noticed the New London base was slated for the chop block. Geo couldn't believe it. "Christ. Well, there goes my whole [expletive] military career." I feared the worse with that closing. New London / Groton was hurting economically. Closing the base would cripple the local economy to the point of life support. Connecticut doesn't have much but at least they had the sub base.
I was actually elated to hear the sub base was going to stay open. The base-closing review board now considers it strategically vital in defending our country. I could feel the breeze from the collective "Whew" as everyone let go of the breath they had been holding since May in New London / Groton.
I only hope our area may be so lucky.