Ohio has saved two military bases from closing and seen significant growth at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Community support and lawmakers persuading the military of the value of those bases and the people working there proved key, said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president for federal government programs.
In a recent interview with the Dayton Daily News, Gessel shared lessons from the last round of federal base closures called BRAC and outlined how the coalition, community and Congressional delegation work together to protect Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The Springfield Air National Guard Base lost its mission training U.S. pilots to fly F-16s in the 2005 BRAC. But the local community and allies in Congress worked to find it new missions, Gessel said, eventually winning missions flying drones and doing intelligence work.
With no BRAC scheduled, the real game now is to gain new missions and keep existing ones.
Sometimes a proposed change will be announced publicly, other times Congress will hear of it or there will be informal tips.
“Our first judgment call is, ‘Do we have a shot?’” Gessel said.
With the F-35 Hybrid Product Support Integrator Organization, a support service for the F-35 Lightning II single-seat fighter jet with an estimated 400 jobs, it was clear Wright-Patt had a good shot.
“At that point it’s not so much a matter of convincing the agency, as it is nursing the original view of the agency to make sure it doesn’t change,” Gessel said.
Wright-Patt won the Air Force recommendation for the F-35 support mission, although the move isn’t finalized.
It’s sometimes hard to gauge how much influence the local delegation has when communities are competing for missions, Gessel said.
“We try to watch what other delegations are doing and they of course are watching what we’re doing,” Gessel said. “And if we get a sense that another Congressional delegation is pushing very hard, then we will encourage our delegation to push with equal strength so that the decision is not going to fall on who makes the biggest push.”
Members will write letters, ask questions at hearings, meet with military officials and ask for briefings. He said very rarely a member will get heavy-handed, perhaps holding up a nomination or appropriation. But that can backfire and cause the military to dig in its heels and the executive branch to assert its powers.
The coalition plays the “long game,” Gessel said.
“Our goal is not to win everything; not even to win most things,” Gessel said. “It’s to win the significant ones and we do not want to jeopardize our relationship with the Air Force and with the defense department over small items when the long game is the long-term health of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the ongoing relationship between our community and the leaders of the Air Force.”
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