House passes defense bill, funding millions for Wright-Patt construction, child care

Credit: Bill Clark

Credit: Bill Clark

House defense bill also ends COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military

The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday passed a defense budget that sets aside millions for Human Performance Wing Laboratory construction and child care at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

“In securing $29 million for a second child development center ... as well as unprecedented levels of investment in emerging defense technologies, my work continues to advance Wright Patterson Air Force Base,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The budget approves $29 million for construction of a new child development center at Wright Patterson, the second of two such centers funded at the base in the past two years, totaling $53 million for both.

The budget also sets aside $4 million for planning and design for construction of a Human Performance Wing Laboratory at the base.

“The bill funds our national defense capabilities; increases pay for our service members by 4.6% and eases the burden of military families’ increased costs from inflation,” Turner said. “In addition, as the threat landscape continues to increase, it is critical that our armed services exceed the pace of our adversaries by enhancing the deterrence value of capabilities.”

The legislation also increases funding for research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) by $131 million and establishes a pilot program to increase HBCU and minority student involvement in defense research.

Turner also supported rescinding the mandate of military members to receive the vaccine against COVID-19.

“We are nearly three years from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Turner said. “Due to the remarkable efforts of the medical research community, the development of the COVID vaccine and various therapeutics drastically mitigate the symptoms posed by the virus.

“Given these developments and the rise of natural immunities, the risk to our military service members has been lowered and we should not punish individuals for electing not to get the vaccine,” he added. “I am supportive of the FY (fiscal year) 23 NDAA and the decision to rescind the COVID-19 mandate.”

Turner in his new term will also represent Springfield and a southern portion of Clark County.

President Biden and leaders of the Department of Defense have argued that the mandate and the vaccine are necessary for the health and military readiness of the troops.

The mandate is the subject of a federal lawsuit in which dozens of Airmen who serve or have served at Wright-Patterson — among others — allege that the Air Force has not granted exemptions from the mandate for reasons of religious belief.

In a recent order for “Hunter Doster, et al. v. Hon Frank Kendall, et al.”, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s order denying the federal government’s appeal to require a class of Air Force members to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

Doster is an first lieutenant working at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson, according to his LinkedIn page.

“All administrative exemptions/religious accommodation requests are evaluated on their own merit and the decision authority must consider the compelling government interest in mission accomplishment, which includes military readiness, unit cohesion, and the health and safety of both the member and the unit,” Rose Riley, an Air Force spokeswoman, told the Dayton Daily News last week. “Requests (for an exemption for the mandate) are denied where receiving the COVID-19 vaccination is determined the least restrictive means.”

According to a House summary of the defense bill, it provides additional funding for the procurement of F/A-18 and F-35 tactical fighter aircraft and supports funding for the “Next Generation Air Dominance” aircraft programs of the Air Force and the Navy. Wright-Patterson personnel are involved in the procurement and development of these programs.

This legislation also authorizes $138.9 billion in research and development investments across the “national security enterprise,” another priority for Wright-Patterson, which is home to the Air Force Research Laboratory.

It also backs a 4.6% pay raise for service members, adds funds to Basic Allowance for Housing, increases the maximum allowable income to receive the Basic Needs Allowance, and adds $210 million for commissary funding.

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