Anthony J. Principi, chairman of the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission, would not say whether his visit provided information that would lead him to support removing Fort Monmouth from a list of military facilities that would be closed under the Pentagon's cost-cutting plan.
"We came here to listen, to learn and to see firsthand the situation at Fort Monmouth," Principi said. "That's precisely what we will do."
Retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd Newton also emphasized that Monmouth's fate has not been sealed.
"No decisions have been made," he said. "We tried very hard not to come to any conclusion while we're sitting here."
In response to the visit, about 200 local residents, elected officials and merchants rallied yesterday morning across the street from the base to demand that one of the region's largest employers be kept open.
Supporters of the base emphasized its value not only to the local economy but also to the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Frank Muzzi, an executive with a local defense contractor that does work with Fort Monmouth, said a save-the-fort coalition estimates that no more than 15 percent to 18 percent of the highly trained scientists and technicians who work at Fort Monmouth would move to Maryland. That would result in a terrible loss of intellectual capital for the Army, he said.
Principi said that is one factor that will be given serious consideration in the panel's deliberations.
U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, a New Jersey Democrat, said, "I'd like to make the argument that it's a bad idea economically for Monmouth County, but they're relatively indifferent to that issue. But they shouldn't be indifferent to the idea that it's a bad idea for national security."
Corzine, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, said work done at Fort Monmouth has led to the development of electronic equipment that helps troops in Iraq find and disable or detonate roadside bombs, one of the chief threats to American troops serving there.
The fort's advocates want to persuade a majority of the nine-member base closure commission to take it off the closure list to be sent to President Bush in September.
Bush can only accept or deny the entire package submitted by the commission. If he accepts the recommendations, the list becomes final within 45 legislative days, unless Congress passes a joint resolution to block the entire package.
If the president rejects the recommendations, the commission has until Oct. 20 to submit a revised list. In November, Bush would have to approve or disapprove the revised recommendations.