Chamber of Commerce honors military personnel at annual gala

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

The state’s Chamber of Commerce is at the center of business in New Jersey. Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is at the center of the state’s military community. At its Liberty Gala, the chamber celebrated the joint base’s importance to the nation’s military preparedness and its critical role in the state’s economy, which is sometimes easy to forget when you think of the role men and women in uniform usually play.

“We just thought because of the relationship we’ve had with the joint base and the importance of the joint base to the state of New Jersey that it was really time to honor the organization, the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst joint base, especially since it was Fort Dix’s 100th anniversary,” said chamber President and CEO Tom Bracken.

Opened in June 1917, Fort Dix was a training and mobilization site for the Army. Its 1,600 buildings included barracks, a medical center, school, guardhouses, and a bakery, creating a small town. But in 2005, base closures and re-alignments threatened the future of Fort Dix until a deal was struck to save it by merging it with neighboring McGuire Air Force Base and the Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station. In 2009, the military’s first three-branch base, MDL, opened. It’s the state’s second largest employer and a community partner, according to Deputy Cmdr. Capt. Christopher Bergen.

“I know of many of my peers in installations across the country that have my job that spend countless hours defending their base and the missions on their base with the outside community that wants to shut them down. In my two years at Joint Base MDL, I have never had to do that,” he noted. “Not once.”

The night also honored men and women who have served over the years, from World War II throughout the Afghan conflict, including Medal of Honor recipient Col. Jack Jacobs, who served 22 years in the Army.

“Right now is a very difficult time because we have a multitude of threats, the threats are all fragmented and we don’t have the capability that we had even just about 10 or 15 years ago,” Jacobs said. “These are tough times.”

Archie Fagan, a World War II Army veteran who served throughout the European theater, captured the spirit of the night with humble, eloquent brevity.

“I thank you very much for having me, but again I say, I love my country. I’m just a survivor that was lucky enough to be here tonight to meet all these wonderful people and I can only say that God bless America and may we last forever and ever,” he said to a standing ovation.

It served as inspiration, and a reminder that many have served, and fallen, in order to make the honoring of survivors both possible and necessary.