State lawmakers unanimously advance creation of the Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs to protect military bases and seek opportunities for an increased military presence.
Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue makes it clear to colleagues the commission will work to keep the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha.
“We were all surprised when Con Agra decided to relocate their corporate headquarters to Chicago and the loss of 1,000 white-collar jobs,” Garrett says during floor debate. “Well, that pales by comparison to what we stand to lose if Offutt Air Force Base where to come out on a BRAC.”
Garrett says Offutt could catch the attention of a base-closing commission, known officially as a Base Realignment and Closure commission.
“For those of you who are familiar with Offutt Air Force Base, it has a lot of limiting factors that limit its operational flying opps,” according to Garrett.
Concern about the future of Offutt has been raised in recent months on both the state and federal level.
Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue, sponsor of LB 754, specifically mentions Offutt when she discusses the bill, saying that Offutt is too important to Nebraska to let it slip away due to Department of Defense budget cuts.
While the legislature moves ahead with creation of the Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry formed the Offutt Air Force Base Task Force to coordinate efforts to repair the aging runway at the base and to keep it from falling victim to Defense Department budget cuts.
The Air Force has reported it has excess inventory, making many bases throughout the country vulnerable to being closed. Offutt has an aging runway. Congress has budgeted $7 million for its design. It will take an estimated $125 million to repair it.
The Air Force has expressed concern about the levees that protect the base from Missouri River flooding. The legislature is considering a budget allocation to raise the height of the levees.
Offutt Air Force Base is best known as the home of the United States Strategic Command, but also is home to the 55th Wing, the 557th Weather Wing, and more than 50 partner units. Located in Bellevue, it is one of the largest employers in Nebraska with 10,000 military and federal employees assigned there.
Some senators, though backing LB 754, have expressed some reservations. They say they want the commission to serve the needs of veterans, not just economic development. Sen. Crawford responds that the commission can focus on the economic aspect of military bases, freeing the Department of Veterans Affairs to concentrate on the needs of veterans.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]