Base Closings Would Devastate New Jersey, Efforts Abroad

In this time of national uncertainty regarding our country’s security, and with our extended commitment overseas in various theaters in the War Against Terror, the military bases dotting the United States are more important than ever to establish success in our efforts to defend and expand the promise of liberty and to protect the safety of our troops in hostile war zones.

That said, the constant threats whispered from the direction of Washington of potential base closings in New Jersey do not make any sense. Why, at this juncture in our nation’s history, with our Armed Forces valiantly fighting a many-faceted war, would anyone in a leadership position in this country condone cuts in the training and research necessary to keep troops safe?

The sad truth is that, even in national decisions of base closings, politics many times trumps pragmatism, and unfortunately, the brave men and women serving in our Armed Forces are caught in the crossfire.

The federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, by which military bases in this country live and die, is a system that, even to those familiar with the workings of government and even within the military, is shrouded in mystery, with the motives of the BRAC Commission known only to those serving on the Commission. There is no public accountability, no public comment, and no public input, save for the few congressional representatives that get to present their constituents’ concerns to the Commission.

For many years, questions of partisanship have dogged the BRAC process, and that should never be the case. Bases cannot be viewed in shades of red and blue, but rather by their productivity and merit. I only hope that those serving on the Commission share that sentiment.

On the State level, many of our local bases, such as the Fort Monmouth research facility, the Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Center, and Picatinny Arsenal, have been put on notice that they may be in danger from BRAC action. These bases, along with being valuable components in the web of military facilities in the United States, are also intrinsically bonded to the communities in which they reside, and closures and cuts are felt not just at the site, but throughout the area in terms of economic hardship and job loss.

BRAC cites the high cost of living in New Jersey as a main reason for scaling back military presence in the State. But, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for, and New Jersey’s proximity to major technology industry leaders, its pool of educated talent, and its location in terms of ports and access to New York and Philadelphia should be more than enough reason to keep our bases intact.

However, our bases are already suffering from the “death by a thousand cuts” mentality of the Pentagon, with key jobs and duties being transferred to other military installations in the surrounding area. It seems the end is just beginning for Fort Monmouth, Picatinny Arsenal, and the rest.

With this much pressure being layered on at the top, it is essential that States be their own best advocates in terms of keeping their military installations viable.

In the Senate, I’ve worked to sponsor bills intended to make life on New Jersey’s bases easier, and to encourage the federal government to reconsider any decommission plans they might have for our valuable bases. These bills would invite input from base commanders on military and veterans affairs’ decisions made in the State, would notify commanders of encroaching development which might impact on military operations on the base, and would provide incentives and eligibility for college tuition assistance to the children of military families stationed in New Jersey, even for a short time. These minor steps will hopefully bear major results.

As conflict continues into the unforeseeable future, it would be unconscionable for the nation to turn its back on its fighting sons and daughters, by cutting back on necessary training and technology which could mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield. In times of war, the federal government should be strengthening its commitment to the bases on the home front, not weakening them.

In New Jersey, we will fight to help those who are fighting to defend the American Way of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Hopefully, the federal government will come around and we can move forward in partnership, giving all viable, productive bases in this country the resources and funding necessary to impart the skills and develop the technology that serve our soldiers on the front line.

Senator Karcher represents the 12th Legislative District, which includes parts of Monmouth and Mercer Counties. In the State Senate, she serves as a member of the Senate Transportation Committee and as vice chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and the Senate Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.