Lawmakers, DOD officials and local leaders addressed some of the most pressing issues for active-base communities at the first-ever Senate Defense Communities Caucus-hosted briefing last week, including military-community partnering, economic development and veterans’ quality of life.
“Communities being responsive and welcoming to transitioning veterans, and thinking outside of the box to find solutions when working with the military are important in this time of tighter budgets,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), said in opening remarks.
Heitkamp co-chairs the caucus — along with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) — and was a recipient of the 2013 ADC Congressional Leadership Award.
Kathleen Ferguson, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, updated the audience of more than 65 congressional aides, community leaders, DOD representatives, veterans advocates and industry leaders on the Air Force’s newest efforts to advance shared services agreements. Such agreements between communities and installations were authorized in last year’s defense authorization bill.
Commissioner John Schmisek of Grand Forks County, N.D., and Mike Corcoran with the University of North Dakota discussed their partnership efforts with Grand Forks Air Force Base, including their intention to sign an enhanced use lease with the Air Force for the development of a business and technology park designed to advance the development of unmanned aerial systems.
Also addressed at the event were current DOD programs and community initiatives driving service member and military family transition efforts. Ed Mason, a principal analyst for Transition Support Services at CALIBRE, provided an overview of how federal agencies, including the departments of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Small Business Administration, are working together to help prepare service members for civilian life through the new Transition GPS program.
Diana Gonzalez, president of DMG Consulting Services and coordinator for the Miami-Dade Defense Alliance, provided a community perspective on Florida veteran transition efforts, and explained how those efforts fit into the economic development strategies for Miami/Dade County, home to U.S. Southern Command.
“Veterans are in communities all across the country, and it takes a high level of service to ensure they are able to be reintegrated into the community,” Gonzalez said. “We work very closely with the business community as well as our county and the state of Florida to make sure our veterans have a place to come home.”
The Senate Caucus, which is similar to a longer-standing caucus in the House, was formed in the summer of 2013 with the goal of bringing together representatives with active and closed military installations in their states and addressing the key issues facing defense communities.
“It is very important to have a community advocate on behalf of their installation,” Sen. Isakson said. “I am proud to co-chair the Defense Communities Caucus, and am ready to do anything I can to promote community investment in the U.S. military.”