Military unit to move to Homestead base
By Shannon Pettypiece
One of the US military's top strategic arms will make move to Homestead, bringing jobs and potential growth to the area's once-thriving military community.
US Special Operations Command South, or SOCSOUTH, now in Puerto Rico, will relocate 150 employees and their families to Homestead by March, said spokesman Keith Butler.
"We have approximately 150 military and civilian employees and all of their family members," Mr. Butler said.
After the US House of Representatives voted in September to close the Puerto Rico base, SOCSOUTH chose Homestead Air Reserve Base for relocation to be closer to its parent institution, US Southern Command, based in Doral.
"SOCSOUTH is the right arm of the US Southern Command when it comes to special operations forces," Mr. Butler said. "That allows for greater mission effectiveness and planning."
The relocation is raising hope that Homestead Air Reserve, which opened in 1942, will not be closed in 2005 and that similar operations will be attracted to the area.
The new installation improves chances that one of 20 new Homeland Security training facilities being considered by the federal government will be established at the base. While the county expected to know if Homestead was selected last month, the Department of Homeland Security hasn't yet made its final picks.
"You are building a stronger case for things like the Homeland Security presence," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas. "I hope it helps Homestead [Air Reserve] survive the next round of base closures in 2005."
Homestead was once a full-time Air Force base, but after substantial damage from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and nationwide base closures in 1993, the base was downgraded to a reserve facility.
The site still has the necessary infrastructure to accommodate SOCSOUTH, Mr. Butler said.
"Homestead offered the best benefit to the American taxpayer by it being one of the less-costly options versus moving to a different location where construction would come into play or leasing would have been required," said Mr. Butler. "The air landing strip was also an attractive feature that would increase our ability to move out quickly."
Diana Gonzales, a consultant working on revitalization of the base, praised the SOCSOUTH move.
"It makes Homestead a more important base in the sense that it is accommodating additional missions and it is serving in a joint-service capacity," she said. "This is a great development in terms of expanding the mission of Homestead Air Reserve Base."
In addition to workspace for the 150 personnel, who will live off-base, SOCSOUTH will need space for military vehicles, equipment and parachutes.
The move will mean a lot for the entire community, which was devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Mayor Penelas said.
"The base before Hurricane Andrew meant so much for jobs and the retirees and the shopping and everything else for that community. This one operation will not be a substitute for that completely, but it certainly brings back the early promises of Homestead," the mayor said.
Mike Richardson, president of the Vision Council, Homestead's economic-development agency, said a large base retail store, BX Mart, was slated to be shuttered but now plans to stay open.
"It looks like we may not lose 83 jobs (BX's workforce), and we are getting 150 more," Mr. Richardson said. "That is real good for our community."