What Our Military Bases and Defense Communities Need

The neglect of our military infrastructure impacts not only our security but also the needs of our service families and the communities that support them.
February 22, 2017
By Michael Cooper  |  Contributor
President of the Association of Defense Communities and chairman of the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission

Our defense infrastructure not only supports our military missions and readiness. It also supports our 1.1 million service members, their families and the communities they call home. But a five-year period of unprecedented turmoil for our defense budget has seriously damaged the military and our defense installations.

No one understands this more than the members of the Association of Defense Communities -- more than 250 communities and 35 states that host and support our nation's 400 defense facilities. A new administration and Congress provide an opportunity for swift action to end sequestration and begin the critical work of rebuilding our military and defense infrastructure. We must remove all obstacles, including arcane, bureaucratic budget-scoring rules, and focus on getting the job done. With an on-the-ground perspective, America's defense communities stand ready to support this undertaking.

To begin with, we need to reinvest in the basic components of our military installations -- roads, airfields, buildings and utilities. We need to enhance the resiliency of our installations and protect the land and air space of our training ranges and facilities for current and future missions. And we need to ensure that we are providing great places for our service members and their families to live, work and learn.

A ready list of defense infrastructure projects exists. For example, our system of early-warning radar sites in the northern continental tier is on the verge of collapse, directly impacting our security. With quick action, investments in these kinds of critically needed infrastructure improvements could become a reality in a matter of months, creating tens of thousands of jobs.

Just as we invest in our defense infrastructure, we must take care of the people who protect us -- our service members and their families. Our defense communities work tirelessly to ensure that military families have great places to live, learn and prosper. They have invested hundreds of millions of local and state dollars to ensure that our bases are sustained. As a nation, we must support them in return, leveraging these investments to develop transportation connections outside the fence, high-quality schools, health-care options and access to other services our service families need and deserve.

This reinvestment must be driven not only by strategy but by innovation that ensures that we are doing things smarter and more efficiently. Partnerships between the private and public sectorsare critical to achieving this goal, and these partners stand ready to make it happen. When the Air Force needed to increase mission capability and reduce costs, for example, the state of Oklahoma and the city of Enid came together to expand the municipal airport facilities and runway to serve Vance Air Force Base.

We also must not forget our nation's former defense infrastructure, the hundreds of military facilities in every part of the country that have been through the Base Realignment and Closing process and offer the potential for job creation. Many sit fallow as they wait for the federal government to transfer land or address environmental issues. More than 9,700 former defense sites present an opportunity to enhance local job growth if the private sector can collaborate with the federal government to focus existing resources. We should leverage the full power of the federal government to turn these unique sites into robust engines of economic growth.

The communities, states and industry partners that support our military bases -- whether active or not -- understand the value of our defense infrastructure both inside and outside the gate. Strong communities are an essential ingredient to the strong military that keeps us all safe.