- Barrie Barber Staff Writer
A state task force targeting ways to protect Ohio’s military bases and attract more defense industry jobs and skilled veterans to the workforce will tour Ohio’s largest military installation today.
The BRAC and Military Affairs Task Force will visit Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the latest stop on a tour crisscrossing Ohio from Coast Guard and NASA installations near Cleveland to National Guard bases in Springfield and Toledo and several other military and federal facilities.
Congress has prohibited a new round of base realignment and closures, or BRAC, in the latest defense budget legislation, but the Pentagon “keeps pushing” to shed excess infrastructure, said state Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, and task force chairman.
“There is growing pressure for a BRAC, but there is still strong resistance,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs. “The Defense Department will expand, move and reduce jobs with or without a BRAC in the future. The kinds of actions we need to take (as a community) are the same with or without a BRAC.”
The 12-member task force was gathering ideas to draft recommendations in a report expected to be released early next year, Perales said.
“The way to be more competitive is to look at it from a state perspective,” said Cassie B. Barlow, a retired Wright-Patterson installation commander who is a member of the state task force. “I think we’ve realized as well it’s not just about a BRAC, but it’s about attracting business and attracting veterans to our region.”
In an interview at the Ohio Defense Forum last month in Columbus, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said a BRAC was “imminent” and if not included in the current defense authorization bill, it would likely be included the following year.
National Guard and Reserve bases could be the most vulnerable in a BRAC, Gessel said. Work at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Air Force Research Laboratory and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson are “solid,” he added.
But officials have noted Wright-Patterson is so large with more than 27,000 employees and 100 units, some work could be targeted to move elsewhere in the future.
A key strategy for communities with military bases is to support current and anticipating future national security missions at the installation, said Tim Ford, CEO of the Association of Defense Communities in Washington, D.C. Part of that strategy means handling issues such as the encroachment of development and developing a workforce to meet the needs of the installation, he said.
This year, state lawmakers set aside $500,000 over two years to pay for infrastructure needs at Wright-Patterson to bolster the installation’s military value in anticipation of a future round of base closures.
Gessel said communities that enter into partnerships with bases, such as for municipal utility services, to share costs and have reliable infrastructure around bases and educational opportunities outside the fence are important parts of that strategy.
Ohio needs to create a position for a coordinator to work to meet the needs of bases and to put in place a strategy to protect its military assets, said Michael Wiehe, director of the Wright State University Applied Policy Research Institute and a task force member.
With so many bases in Ohio, “if you’re not looking at what you have … it’s possible that you could lose it or things could drastically change,” he said.
The last BRAC round in 2005 brought more than 1,100 jobs to Wright-Patterson and the addition of the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and the AFRL Sensors Directorate.