For the first time since taking office, the U.S. Secretary of Defense on Friday visited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where he received updates on projects and met with local Airmen.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, invited Secretary Mark T. Esper to visit in order to “celebrate” the base topping recently 30,000 jobs for the first time in 30 years. Esper became defense secretary in July.
“The Secretary obviously gets a number of briefings that come across his desk,” Turner said. “This was an opportunity to show him how those reports are formulated, what intelligence that we have, how do we know what we know and more importantly, for us as a community, what’s done here.”
Before 1989, Wright-Patt hadn’t employed more than 30,000 since 1964. It marks just the 10th time Wright-Patt has employed more than 30,000 in 101 years, base data shows.
The increase in employment is the result of the base having better “local hiring authority” from the Air Force to fill new positions and vacancies that remained from a hiring freeze, Col. Tom Sherman, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander has said.
Esper had the chance to meet with some of Wright-Patt’s more than 30,000 employees Friday during a town hall session he hosted while on the base. Members of the media were not permitted to attend the meeting.
Not only was Friday the first time Esper visited Wright-Patt, but it was the first time the secretary visited any Air Force installation since taking office, said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Air Force Materiel Command commander.
“It was an honor for the men and women of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to meet with Secretary Esper and share first-hand what they do each and every day to defend America…He and Mrs. Esper expressed their heartfelt appreciation for the service of our Airmen, both uniformed and civilian, their families, and for their contributions to the Air Force in support of the National Defense Strategy,” Bunch said in a prepared statement.
While at Wright-Patt, Turner said he and Esper also received an update on an expansion of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center on the base. NASIC is in the midst of a $182-million expansion project that is one of the largest in Wright-Patt’s history.
The intelligence agency analyzes adversaries’ air, space and cyber threats, such as ballistic missile capabilities, and provides findings to the nation’s political and military leaders.
As national decision makers have demanded more intelligence, NASIC’s workforce increased by about 1,500 employees, or 100 a year between 2000 to 2015, according to the agency. NASIC’s expansion will bring employees in six different locations into one facility and will add 900 seats to house intelligence analysts and engineers and add labs.
“What everybody finds interesting when they first come to Wright-Patt, is that all the things that they think need to be connected and working together are all right here…I think that aspect of the synergies, the integration that happens here is a type that I think really helps the the secretary understand not only the mission, of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but how this works in the context of the Air Force,” Turner said.
NASIC received an initial $61 million for its expansion after president Donald Trump signed 2018’s $716-billion defense bill a little over a year ago. It was the first of three installments that will fund NASIC’s expanded facility.
It was Esper, Turner said, who was one of the main advocates for the NASIC expansion when the Trump administration announced plans to divert military construction money to fund the president’s border wall. In the end, no funding for any Ohio projects were touched in the $3.6 billion diversion plans.
“The NASIC funding was able to be protected, even though the president had been looking to the Department of Defense for funding for immigration and for the wall with Mexico,” Turner said. “I was able to thank the secretary for his work ensuring that those dollars come here today so that we can undertake that expansion.”
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