GOV. EASLEY VOWS TO KEEP N.C. MOST MILITARY FRIENDLY STATE IN THE NATION
Gov. Mike Easley today vowed to work hard to continue maintaining North Carolina's reputation as the most military friendly state in the nation. This comes in response to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommendations made public today.
"Based on early assessments, it will take a lot of time to sort out the details of this document," said Easley. "However, at first glance it appears North Carolina fared well thanks to the help of local communities and our congressional delegation. In the coming weeks we will be sorting out exactly what is occurring at Cherry Point and Pope Air Force Base. We are extremely pleased that operations at Fort Bragg will be expanding significantly and we can breathe a sigh of relief that Seymour Johnson is not only intact, but will grow.
"We anticipate growth on the East coast, in particular with North Carolina bases, as we go forward. We will continue to aggressively make our case for all of these jobs."
The Commission is recommending the following for North Carolina: expansion at Fort Bragg Army Base, gaining 4,078 military and 247 civilian jobs; realignment of Pope Air Force Base, with the loss of 4,821 military jobs and gain of 808 civilian jobs; realignment at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, gaining 345 military and 17 civilian jobs; realignment at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, gaining 48 military, losing 656 civilian jobs; and realignment at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, losing 182 military and one civilian job.
Other recommendations include realigning the Army Research Office in Durham, with one military and 113 civilian job losses; closing the Navy Reserve Center in Asheville, loss of seven military jobs; closing the Niven Army Reserve Center in Albemarle, loss of 34 military jobs and gain of five civilian; and addition of six military personnel at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
"The Defense Department has now made its recommendations to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission," said Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue. "The list does not include any base closures in North Carolina. We can all be proud of North Carolina's tremendous team effort over the last few years and it's important to thank those who have played key roles during the BRAC process - Gov. Easley, the state's Advisory Commission on Military Affairs co-chaired by Troy Pate and General Hugh Shelton, our local base communities, our business community and organizations and our members of Congress. Also, I want to thank the men and women who serve in our military and defend our freedom every day. You are our friends, our neighbors, our family. We are proud to have you in North Carolina and we're going to do everything we can to support and keep you here.
"This is only one step in the process," said Perdue. "We will work closely with members of the Commission to make sure they understand North Carolina's tremendous military assets and our strong support for the armed services. We believe the Commission will ultimately conclude, as the Defense Department has concluded, that our state and its bases are a great home for the military of the future."
In early 2003, the governor asked Perdue to head the state's efforts in response to BRAC. The lieutenant governor has worked with the military communities across the state along with the N.C. Advisory Commission on Military Affairs to lobby Washington on the importance of maintaining a strong military presence in North Carolina.
North Carolina is home to six major military installations and more than 100,000 military personnel. To prepare for the U.S. Department of Defense's BRAC announcement, the state has been targeting strategic investments to support its bases, surrounding communities, members of the military and family dependents. Following is a list of key steps taken since 2001:
# Easley signed into law statutes creating the Advisory Commission on Military Affairs on Sept. 26, 2001. The commission has hosted the first state conference on military base encroachment under the sponsorship of the National Governors Association, conducted an economic impact analysis showing that the military sector contributes more than $18 billion annually to North Carolina's economy and prepared a strategic plan including a legislative package of recommendations.
# On Oct. 26, 2001, Easley announced that the N.C. National Guard would fully fund college tuition assistance benefits to guardsmen. Shifting $152,000 in funds allowed the Guard to cover tuition assistance requests for 141 members whose applications were pending. College tuition assistance had already been provided to 1,065 guardsmen that budget year, and the funding shortfall was the first in the program's history.
More than 15,700 acres within five miles of North Carolina's military bases have been protected from incompatible development and encroachment. Funding for this $15.5 million effort has come from the state's Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Natural Heritage Trust Fund and Ecosystem Enhancement Trust Fund. The military and non-profit conservation organizations have been strong partners in this initiative.
# Private industry has been another key ally in North Carolina's efforts. In April 2003, the governor and the N.C. Bankers Association announced "Operation ROTC" (Reaching Out To Communities), whereby 133 banking institutions across the state began providing free financial counseling information to individuals, families and businesses affected by recent deployments. The effort also included a $100,000 donation from the Bankers Association for extended daycare for families through the Family Service Support Centers on North Carolina bases.
# To celebrate the National Guard's 368th birthday on Dec. 13, 2004, NASCAR stockcar teams raised $90,000 to aid guardsmen and their families by donating $10 for every lap each driver completed at the UAW-GM Quality 500 race in October at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord. Hendrick Motorsports contributed an extra $10,000.
# The Onslow County Committee of 100, Allies for Cherry Point's Tomorrow and Team GoldWayne have been provided more than $560,000 from the emergency and contingency fund for BRAC efforts to help protect military bases and expand their missions.
# The 2004 budget bill provides $4.8 million for a new 99-bed nursing home for veterans in Salisbury; $250,000 for emergency aid to financially struggling families of deployed guardsmen, and a $975,000 match to local and federal funds to replace the armory in Caldwell County. It also allows for up to $300,000 to be used for design and planning costs for the State Veterans Cemetery in Jacksonville.
# The state recently enacted legislation to provide in-state tuition for military personnel and family members attending community colleges and universities, and protection against employment discrimination when ordered to active duty. Other key legislation passed that session included authorizing a $20 million debt over the next two years to buy land near military bases to protect against encroachment, and requiring counties and cities to give nearby bases ample and written notice of any land-use planning changes. And the state has created new license plates, reading "In God We Trust" and "Support Our Troops," to help financially strapped families of deployed guardsmen.
# In April 2004, Easley provided soldiers of the N.C. National Guard's 30th Heavy Separate Brigade deployed in Iraq with handheld radios, laptop computers, body armor for their vehicles and battery-operated flashing yellow lights.
# Easley was named co-leader in July 2004 of the National Governors Association's efforts on issues related to the Guard. The association has since urged support for a number of initiatives including efforts to provide health care coverage to guardsmen and reserves, regardless of mobilization status.