Spirit of partnership needed for US defense

In 1608, Captain John Smith recognized the importance of building a fort at Point Comfort in what is today the Virginia City of Hampton. He constructed Fort Algernourne with the mission of protecting the colony at Jamestown. After the War of 1812, Fort Monroe was constructed at the same site to guard the entrance to Hampton Roads and the several port cities sharing its waters. These events began Virginia’s long partnership with the nation’s military and national-security agencies. 

Over the centuries, that partnership has grown. The military is an integral part of Virginia. We are home to the Pentagon, the CIA, Naval Air Station Oceana, Joint Forces Command, Fort Lee, Quantico and Fort Belvoir, to name a few. During the years, the commonwealth has provided the infrastructure required to support the growth of these facilities, including roads; building and manning fire, rescue and first responder facilities; schools and neighborhoods. The work that was done by the military in Virginia provides for the safety and security of Americans here at home and our allies abroad.

Given the critical role that the military plays in the life of our state, we closely monitor all discussions and considerations of possible changes to infrastructure and facilities. This typically occurs through the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. BRAC has not been easy on any state. In Virginia, it has caused increased economic hardship.  However, we have always been treated as a full participating partner in the decision-making process. That has benefited all involved, from citizens impacted negatively by the closing of a facility, to our military assisted by the commonwealth’s ability to provide the additional resources needed to facilitate an expansion or reassignment.

Unfortunately, recent events have not adhered to this prior framework. On Aug. 9, the Secretary of Defense recommended the closure of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) and reduction of the use of defense contracts by a total of 30 percent during the next three years. This was not done within the BRAC process. It was a decision not marked by the openness, transparency and cooperation we have previously known.
Secretary Robert Gates has directed several flag officers at USJFCOM to put together a plan for its elimination and provide to him an interim report by the middle of October and a final report in December.  Furthermore, he directed all personnel who participate in the formulation of a plan to support his announcement to sign a nondisclosure statement. In essence, the Secretary of Defense has imposed an embargo on all information that is needed by the commonwealth to respond to the Aug. 9 announcement.

The commonwealth, after hundreds of years of partnership with the federal government in the development and growth of our military and national defense infrastructure, is unfortunately not being treated as a partner in this specific instance. All exchange of information has ended. 

After numerous letters and calls from our administration and Virginia’s Congressional Delegation to the Department of Defense and President Obama, an offer was extended for a breakfast meeting between the DoD, Virginia administration officials and members of the Congressional Delegation to discuss this situation. Several representatives of the Secretary of Defense will attend the meeting, but the Secretary of Defense will be absent. This breakfast coincides with a recently announced Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, requested by Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D), which will be attended by the same officials from the department. Given all of this, while hopes remain high for an invitation to the commonwealth to be a full participating partner in deciding the future of USJFCOM, expectations are low. 

If this specific situation becomes the norm, rather than an anomaly, it would appear the commonwealth — and for that matter any other state with military and national security facilities — is no longer a partner in a previously open and longstanding decision-making process. It’s unfortunate the spirit of cooperation in such matters could possibly be lost. President Obama and Secretary Gates are in a position to reverse this disappointing development. Defense of the homeland is best achieved with a spirit of cooperation and partnership between the states and the federal government. We are optimistic such a spirit can be regained.

Terrie Suit is senior adviser to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) for military relations.