Strategic value is still bottom line

The numbers denoting Fort Benning’s value to and economic impact on Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley are familiarly massive and impressive. Ledger-Enquirer business writer Tony Adams shared some of the prominent ones from Tuesday’s pre-BRAC conference at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center:

More than 11,000 military personnel, almost 34,000 family members and almost 11,000 civilian employees. A monthly salary payout of $110 million, or more than $1.3 billion annually, and about $3 billion a year in area contracts connected to Fort Benning.

We all know Fort Benning’s importance to this community, and we all know how much this community values Fort Benning — economically and otherwise.

But, as area government, business and other leaders were reminded Tuesday, those aren’t the primary factors that are going to protect Fort Benning or any of Georgia’s other military installations when the next round of Base Alignment and Closure decisions comes due, probably within the next three to five years.

Strategic consultant Anthony Principi, a former VA secretary, told the Georgia House Military Affairs Study Committee and the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce that it is “critically important that you do everything possible, as you’re doing, in advance of the next BRAC round and before that list comes out, before that list is made public, to protect, preserve and enhance your military installations.”

The Pentagon, like other realms of government, is looking to save money (as demonstrated by Benning’s painful loss of the 3,400 member 3rd Brigade Combat Team). In the decision-making process, a particular military installation’s importance to a community is subordinate to that installation’s strategic importance — though the degree to which a community can provide support to that post or base can make a difference.

In other words, it might well be that Columbus and other Georgia military locales need to make the strongest possible case not for the military installation’s value to the community, but the other way around.

The Pentagon’s bottom line is national defense, not local and regional economies.

For decades, even during other military drawdown processes, Fort Benning seemed almost sacrosanct. The Home of the Infantry was surely untouchable; in previous Army realignments, other posts’ losses were Fort Benning’s gains, such as the relocation of the U.S. Armor School from Fort Knox.

No more. Military missions, Principi said, are continually evolving, and we should “assume that every base in the state of Georgia is at risk.”

Probably the best thing working in this community’s favor is the experience and expertise factor. If there’s any place in the country with people who know what the Army values and needs, and how to make the case to decision makers that we are able to provide those things, that place is here.