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Don’t take local military value for granted

Michael Dustman, director of constituent services for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, was adamant last week that the Mahoning Valley should not “give up the fight” on the possibility that a local military installation still could be chosen as home for a proposed East Coast Missile Defense site.

If that happens, it would mean a $4.5 billion investment, plus thousands of direct and indirect temporary and permanent jobs to our area.

Dustman spoke as part of a panel discussion I moderated during the “Impact Ohio” conference Thursday in Youngstown. The event was sponsored by the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber and was well attended by area business leaders and elected officials. But the topics certainly should be of interest to everyone here in our Mahoning Valley. They included an exchange about increasing manufacturing competitiveness locally, restoration of the Mahoning River and my panel, which focused on military affairs and the economy.

Sadly, many of us who live in northeast Ohio take for granted the fact that Trumbull County is home to two critical missions for national defense — the Youngstown Air Reserve Station and its 910th Airlift Wing, along with the Camp James A. Garfield Joint Military Training Facility in the Newton Falls-Ravenna area.

So often we hear or see the giant C-130 aircraft rumbling overhead and just expect that they always will be there. Likewise, we take for granted that Camp Garfield always will exist.

But in reality, no one knows for sure what the future holds for these important facilities.

Let me explain just how important they are.

Upon the closing of the General Motors Lordstown plant, the Youngstown Air Reserve Station became the Valley’s No. 1 employer, with just fewer than 1,900 civilian and military employees. Incredibly, the facility pumps about $110 million each year into the local economy.

Camp Garfield is a specialized joint training facility that has been listed among the three finalists, should the Department of Defense move forward with creating a missile defense site in America.

Local and elected leaders fully grasp the value of these two installations and are not waiting around to leave the future of these bases to fate.

Instead, the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission, or EOMAC, is working to promote the importance and value of the local military installations. The group was formed in 2015, at a critical time when the Air Force had reduced the number of planes and manpower at the local air station and the annual economic value from base operations had dwindled to less than $100 million.

Today, the local air reserve station is thriving and in the running for additional and upgraded C-130 aircraft.

The panel discussion I moderated last week was comprised of panelists Vito Abruzzino, who is the executive director of EOMAC; state Rep. Rick Perales, who is chairman of the Ohio House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee; retired Air Force Col. Joseph Zeis Jr., senior policy adviser for Aerospace and Defense, a newly created cabinet-level position for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine; and, of course, Dustman.

Along with creation of EOMAC on the local level, we are seeing an increase in military focus on the state level as well, with the creation and appointment of the first-ever cabinet-level position in the Ohio governor’s office.

And while news out of Washington this summer was that Camp Garfield had not been listed as the first choice for the East Coast Missile Defense site, Dustman said last week he believes no decision has been made yet.

“I would say do not give up the fight,” Dustman said of trying to land the site here some day. “The testimony the then-secretary of defense gave was they felt backed into a corner and they had to designate a site, which is why Fort Drum (was selected),” he said, adding a “whole new evaluation will be done” if the idea comes up again.

blinert@tribtoday.com