By Christie Duffy
Soldiers were surprised to see their regular service staff replaced by a U.S. senator.
Sen. Cory Booker, State Senate President Steve Sweeney and Congressman-Elect Tom MacArthur all worked the concessions line at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Tuesday, serving up a hot lunch to those who serve our country.
“These are people that have devoted themselves to our country’s security and our interests. And it’s important to me that I do everything I can do to to support them,” MacArthur said.
Just ahead of Veterans Day, website WalletHub listed New Jersey’s two largest cities as among the worst for veterans — listing Newark dead last and Jersey City not far behind when it comes to vets’ employment, wages and poverty.
“That is the worst thing I’ve heard in a long time and we need to fix it,” said Sweeney.
Booker, Newark’s former mayor, says his city is a trailblazer for veterans’ services.
“We were the first city in America to have municipal veterans services, the GI Go Fund, located right in City Hall. That not only helped vets in Newark but literally became a hub for veterans’ services all over the state,” Booker said.
Some call Booker the celebrity senator from New Jersey. He’s appeared on Oprah and reportedly received campaign donations from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. But today, Booker shunned the white tablecloth and seating reserved for senators, instead opting to rub shoulders with soldiers.
“I’m just trying to be me and be authentic. I mean the reality is we gotta be ourselves. And there are different strategies to be used. When I was mayor of Newark, was not getting attention, wasn’t getting the philanthropy it needed, wasn’t getting the developers, the nation didn’t even realize that Newark was this great opportunity. So we worked hard to raise Newark’s profile and bring in resources,” Booker said.
Something on the minds of lawmakers as they sat across the table from the service men and women was the threat of base closures. Another round has been talked about by military leaders in order to save money. But here in New Jersey, the joint base is the second largest employer in the state, with 44,000 reporting here for duty.
“You can only imagine how devastating it would be if this base was to close, so everyone is working together to keep this base open,” said Sweeney.
“It’s a concern that I have, so we are going to do everything I can because of the critical nature of the services provided by this base,” Booker said.
The base has already seen some units moved or eliminated as the secretary of defense is pushing down in Washington to shrink the military to its smallest size in 75 years.