Officials Worry About Economy if Military Bases Close

By Christie Duffy

Shutting down is a possibility, but the reality today at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is consolidation. Jobs being moved elsewhere.

“Here at the joint base there has been some missions that were eliminated, some that were moved,” said former Fort Dix Commander Ret. Col. Mike Warner.

“The base probably supports 99 percent of the businesses in town. Without the base, this town would not be here,” said business owner and Wrightstown Mayor Tom Harper.

Sources say security training for the Air Force was relocated from the Burlington County base to Texas earlier this summer. And there are plans to remove reserve units from the base.

“I think anything is on the table. All three of these installations. The Department of Defense has tried to close them in one way or another since 1989,” Warner said.

A Department of Defense spokesman tells NJTV that all arms of the military are shrinking. Twenty percent of military buildings and space sit unused while taxpayer dollars go toward maintaining them.

“For that reason, DoD will ask Congress for another round of Base Realignment [and] Closure (BRAC) in 2017. I am mindful that Congress has not agreed to [our] BRAC requests of the last two years. But if Congress continues to block these requests even as they slash the overall budget, we will have to consider every tool at our disposal to reduce infrastructure,” said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

The last time military bases faced closure was in 2005. That’s when this military base was consolidated from three into the current one. Government officials say that the last round of BRAC was more focused on reorganization. They say this round would be focused more on closures.

“Judgement will be on its military value. So you have the tanker base here. That’s where you refuel planes. And that’s the primary mission of McGuire is refuel. It’s a major training facility for the Army, the Reserve and the National Guard. And most people don’t realize it but over at Lakehurst, it’s the only place in the world that makes the stuff on an aircraft carrier that lets jets take off and land,” said Warner.

Former Fort Dix Commander Warner, business and political leaders are working to keep the joint base alive and thriving. The state’s economy depends on it.

“The joint base has a $6.9 billion annual economic impact. It is the second largest employer in the state of New Jersey, second only to the state of New Jersey itself. It’s home to 44,000 men and women’s jobs on the base; 65,000 indirect jobs related to the base. I’m talking about jobs that are as far reaching as the auto dealer in Maple Shade who offers a military discount,” said Burlington County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kristi Howell.

The gas station attendant and owner right down the road is also the town’s mayor.

When Harper was asked what he would do if the base closed, he said, “Retire. I would have to. I would have no choice.”

The governor formed a task force in May to forge a blueprint for the long-term growth of all of New Jersey’s military bases.