In June 1964, at the request of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Development Association, the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce undertook studies to develop a program to represent and protect the interests of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the many surrounding local communities.

Contact was made with all public shipyards.  Through a series of conferences with the Washington Representative of Vallejo, California, (Mare Island Naval Shipyard) it was determined that Vallejo's program had been a successful operation for more than 17 years.  The Shipyard Development Association at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) and the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce voted to adopt the Vallejo plan for this area.

A temporary, 30-person board of governors was formed in September 1964 comprised of 15 representatives from the community and a similar number from the shipyard.  Committees were formed to write by-laws, establish qualifications for the Washington Representative, prepare a budget, raise the necessary funds, determine administrative procedures, maintain publicity and public relations and select the "Man in Washington."  An entity separate from the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce evolved and was incorporated in October 1964 as the Portsmouth-Kittery Armed Services Committee, Inc. (P-KASC).

Approximately $57,000 was raised for the program when, on Nov. 19, 1964, Secretary of Defense McNamara announced the planned closure of the Shipyard over a 10-year period.  After a series of discussions with governors, congressional delegations, and other influential people, both here and in Washington, the board voted to continue the program with the primary goal being "Save the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard."

In February 1965, Rear Admiral Joshua W. Cooper, a resident of Alexandria, Virginia, who had recently retired from active naval service, was retained on a full-time basis as the P-KASC Washington Representative, with the primary objective "to work for the benefit and welfare of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard."  He proved his worth many times over.  His major accomplishments being his behind the scenes efforts that resulted in the Shipyard closure order being rescinded in 1971, and emphatically reaffirmed by President Nixon in the spring of 1973.  With the new lease on life, Admiral Cooper worked relentlessly with Shipyard management to sell military construction projects to upgrade the Shipyard's capabilities.

The first permanent board of governors was certified in April 1965.  The board consisted of one member from each of 40 cities and towns in the Seacoast region of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.  An 18-member executive committee, made up of both shipyard and community members conducted the day-to-day activities.

In September 1985, Admiral Cooper retired as the Man-in-Washington after serving over 20 years.  In June 1986, Attorney David C. Gray was retained to replace Admiral Cooper as the Man-in-Washington.  Gray, a native of Portsmouth, resided in Washington, DC, and during his time as Man-in-Washington devoted major efforts to furthering military construction projects for the shipyard.  Gray resigned in June 1991.  His major accomplishment was his efforts to secure the Dry Dock #2 Modernization Project for the Shipyard.  In October 1990, P-KASC changed its name to the Seacoast Shipyard Association (SSA).

In August 1991, Capt. William D. McDonough, USN (Ret) was retained as the Washington Representative to replace Gray.  Captain McDonough had served as Portsmouth Naval Shipyard as commander from 1974-1979, and as such, had worked closely with Admiral Cooper and thus understood the value to the Shipyard of the Man-in-Washington Program.  Captain McDonough elected to reside in Kittery, Maine, making trips to Washington and other locations as necessary.

The year 1992 was a year of awakening for the Seacoast area. The 1990 law calling for Defense Base Closings had not been fully appreciated because the Navy's nuclear capable shipyards had been excluded from consideration in 1991.  As 1992 progressed, it was apparent that Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was indeed very vulnerable and a serious candidate for closure.  Captain McDonough was the primary spokesman for the SSA and led the campaign to bring full awareness of this threat to all by extensive use of the media and a multitude of speaking engagements.

The total Congressional Delegation of Maine and New Hampshire, four Senators and four Congressmen, plus the two Governors came together like never before to work to avoid Portsmouth being selected for closure.  Throughout late 1992 and into 1993, the local news media and congressional delegations from both states were relentless in bombarding the Navy Department and the Defense Department with all the positive features of the shipyard and justifications to keep it open.  This persistent campaign prevailed with the result that Portsmouth was not selected for closure in 1993.  Two other nuclear capable naval shipyards were ordered closed, providing the realness of the threat.

There was a little respite late in 1993 before the entire closure process resumed.  The following year was spent reconstituting SSA's resistance to closure effort.  This time an even more effective community effort grew up and around the SSA.  Again, congressional delegations from both states and the two governors joined in carrying the positive case for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to the Navy and DOD.  The 1995 closure decision once again spared Portsmouth while identifying another naval shipyard for closure. This closure order brought the total number of naval shipyards down to four; seven of the eleven that existed at the end of World War II were now slated for extinction, a 64-percent reduction.

However, once again the Base Closure Commission decided to exercise its prerogative and put Portsmouth Naval Shipyard under review for potential closure, even though the Shipyard was not recommended for closure by the DOD.  In the Spring of 1995, as in 1993, SSA, working with the same parties as before, brought the shipyard's case before the Base Closure Commission in formal hearings.  Once again success was achieved in that the DOD reaffirmed its recommendation that the shipyard remain open.

Within the Shipyard, during the BRACs of the mid-1990s an initiative questioned the validity of the Shipyard Employees Association (SEA) which had evolved from the earlier Shipyard Development Association.  SEA was the entity, representing all employees of the shipyard that provided the major financial support for the SSA.  The initiative was studied by the commander and legal counsel, and resulted in the shipyard commander ruling that the organization was not valid, and SEA rapidly went out of existence as did its financial support of SSA.  SSA continued to exist at a greatly curtailed level by eliminating every possible expense.

The 1990 Base Closure law that directed the 1990’s BRAC efforts, mentioned above, had a “sunset clause”, i.e., the law specified that it, and the Base Closure Commissions it created, would go out of existence at the end of 1995, which it did!  Very shortly afterward, there started a series of requests by the administration to have Congress authorize a new round of defense base closures - more BRACs.  Congress repeatedly denied these requests. 

In the summer of 2001, DoD submitted a formal proposal to Congress calling for a resurrection of the 1990 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act, with a closure action targeted for 2003. Congress continued to show resistance but debate continued as they deliberated the FY 2002 Defense Authorization Act.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld advised the Congress that he would urge the President to veto the entire cct if it did not include “BRAC.”  In December 2001, Congress acceded to Rumsfeld’s demands and included the resurrection of the 1990 law calling for another BRAC. Congress also authorized one and set May 2005 as the deadline for forwarding recommendations to Rumsfeld--nearly three and one-half years in the future, and after the next Presidential election.  The President signed the Act into law. 

The year 2002 was one of periodic bursts of media coverage for the forthcoming BRAC accompanied by much speculation by various pundits on the vulnerability of various bases; frequently Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was included in those considered “likely for closure”.  During 2002 PNS continued to execute its major availabilities in an exemplary manner and was frequently commended by higher authority for its outstanding performance.  BRAC 2005 was still a “long” ways off; there was vast complacency in the Seacoast brought about by PNS’ stellar performance repeatedly recognized, and by the memories of past BRACs where PNS had survived.  Sort of a “ho-hum” attitude prevailed. 

The specter of BRAC was brought to the forefront 15 November ’02 when SecDef Rumsfeld issued the DoD “kick-off” memo for BRAC 2005.  This directive was shortly reaffirmed by Secretary of the Navy directive of 25 November 2002, which included very definitive instructions that any and all Navy activities were prohibited from any participation in, or support of, any community or other efforts arising to thwart the actions of DoD in the BRAC process. (This became known as the “gag order” though vehemently denied).  Noteworthy in these directives was the very definitive position that, in the forthcoming BRAC, the Department of Defense would be far more directly involved in the development of BRAC recommendations than had been the case in previous BRACs where the major effort was by individual Service, i.e. Army, Navy & Air Force, with DoD (SecDef) generally accepting and promulgating the results.

Subsequent to December 2001 there were periodic bursts of media coverage of the “forthcoming BRAC”.  Many self proclaimed experts came “out of the woodwork” with advice on supposed actions by DoD in identifying vulnerable candidate bases for closure.  This led to many “experts” pursuing communities nationwide with proposals on what they could do for communities concerning the survival of “their” bases.  Many communities across the nation succumbed to these enticements and very significant amounts of money were invested with these “experts” as the 2005 BRAC drew nearer.  Based upon SSA’s considerable “BRAC” experience, and continuity in the organization’s personnel, SSA resisted any overtures (of which there were many) and advised other local interests to do likewise. 

During late 2003 SSA (Captain McDonough) contacted Senator Gregg’s senior representative in NH on the subject of resurrecting the Congressional team that had existed during the 1990’s BRACs.  Senator Gregg had become the senior congressional representative of the ME/NH delegation and his NH “guru” was Joel Maiola.  It was urged that Senator Gregg, as the senior of our 4 Senators and 4 Congressmen, take the lead in reforming the cohesive grouping of congressional staffers. This group had worked extremely well in BRACs 1993 & 1995 under the leadership of Senators Mitchell and Cohen.  This did occur, and with the Maine and New Hampshire governor’s representatives, working with SSA and ME/NH communities it became the “team” that worked to avoid DOD’s nomination of PNS for closure, and then subsequently overturning SecDef Rumsfeld’s closure recommendation.  

By the end of 2003, some two years after the enactment of the resurrected Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990, which mandated the 2005 BRAC, significant actions had already occurred in DOD and DON.  A two year plan, with milestones, had been developed. On more than one occasion SecDef Rumsfeld made it very clear that he intended the 2005 BRAC to result in realignments and closures that would exceed the totals of the past four rounds, i.e. ‘88, ‘91 ‘93 and ‘95.  Defense officials indicated this would reduce the country’s nearly 425 remaining major military bases by at least 20 percent.

It was very clear that the 2005 BRAC would be conducted under the direct control of the DoD. In the previous rounds the three Services identified their candidates, passed them to DoD (SecDef) who seemingly only combined the recommendations and forwarded them to the Base Closure Commission for their review and recommendations to the President. 

For this 2005 round it was very obvious that SecDef would have virtual total control; the three Service Secretaries would follow the SecDef’s position or they would be gone!  Also emphasized in SecDef Rumsfeld’s position was the need for “jointness,” meaning that bases provide support to other services not just their parent service.  And lastly, but far from least in importance, was the current administration’s obsession with finding ways to turn over government work to the private sector. Privatization had become a “buzzword”.  Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s projected submarine workload was an obvious “delectable” target as a source of bolstering the severely declining submarine construction workload in the nation’s only two capable building yards.

Navy’s long term planning of projected submarine workload for the four remaining naval shipyards reflected “comfortable” workload levels at Norfolk, Puget Sound and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyards. However there was a very significantly lower level being projected for Portsmouth. This was discussed regularly with our team of Congressional Members and they responded by initiating repeated letters to appropriate DON and DOD offices requesting justification and corrective action. The evasiveness and tardiness in responses continued right up to May of 2005, and was an obvious “stonewalling” tactic.    

2004 saw SSA pull out all the stops in its efforts to awaken the Seacoast area to the very clear threat of closure that faced PNS.  It was clear to many that actions being undertaken by Navy and DOD were laying the building blocks for a case that would result in a 2005 BRAC closure recommendation for PNS.  This was despite the outstanding performance of PNS, which consistently and significantly exceeded that of the other nuclear shipyards, both public and private.  It was a difficult sell because so many felt that the vastly superior performance, along with high level of recognition and praise would protect PNS. 

SSA working with the team of congressional and governor’s representatives and with frequent participation of the Governors, Senators and Congressmen in person did succeed in bringing the threat home. The press in the Seacoast area became very helpful, and supportive. The result was a large increase in support with commensurate financial support which was a vital ingredient in the battle.

PNS continued to perform it’s submarine work in an outstanding manner, saving millions of dollars and returning submarines to action earlier and earlier far surpassing any other Navy or private shipyard.  This was publicized and recognized at appropriate levels, but had no apparent positive effect on the closure recommendations.

Despite very well coordinated efforts, including most impressive community support actions in the Seacoast to change the path toward closure that Washington was taking, there was no indication that DON/DOD were even aware of it.  And the deadline for SecDef action under the existing law was rapidly approaching.

On Thursday, 12 May 2005 just days before the 16 May deadline and a single day before the often speculated Friday, 13 May 2005 release date of Secretary Rumsfeld’s BRAC closure recommendations, the shipyard received a most prestigious award citing “The Secretary of the Navy takes pleasure in presenting the MERITORIOUS UNIT COMMENDATION to NAVAL SHIPYARD PORTSMOUTH For services as set forth in the following  . . . “..

This award is an award rarely if ever awarded to a naval shipyard. The award was received throughout the Seacoast area with great joy, and a feeling of euphoria seemed to prevail.  However, the very next day SecDef Rumsfeld’s closure recommendations were released and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was slated for closure!  The reaction throughout the Seacoast and especially at the Yard itself was explosive.

The fight to convince the Defense Base Closure and realignment commission to overturn the DoD/DoN closure recommendation commenced at noon on the day of the closure recommendation and was greatly intensified the following Monday when our entire Congressional Delegation, joined by our two Governors, rallied outside Gate 2 of the Yard.  At this session all parties vowed to present a winning case to the BRAC Commissioners, and the fight was on!

That four month effort culminated on 24 August 2005 when BRAC Commission Chairman Principi, in remarks calling for the Commission to vote on Portsmouth, stated it to be  “... the gold standard by which we should measure other shipyards.”  The Commission then voted 7 to 1 to overturn Secretary Rumsfeld’s closure recommendation.  An overall description of the 4 month effort was aptly summarized in a 48 page Seacoast Media Group Commemorative Edition published on 18 September 2005. [Copies of this are held by SSA]

As 2005 drew to a close, the Seacoast Shipyard Association resolved to continue as the active organization, established 1964, that is “dedicated to the Welfare and Development of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard”.  The “sunset” feature of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act kicked in at the end of 2005 and the resurrected version went out of existence.

We encouraged the Congressional Delegation to continue the alliance of staffers and to maintain the close relationship with PNS and SSA knowing full well that the future is never a sure thing.  SSA continues to have support from the many Seacoast communities and remains a source of information for them.