A county organization was awarded $125,000 in state funds to help support Stratton Air National Guard Base’s polar mission and, on a larger scale, protect the base from threats of closure in the face of looming federal defense cuts.
A dozen organizations across the state were awarded a total of $2.9 million in grants to advocate in support of their local military bases by improving existing facilities, promoting additional missions and any other efforts that sustain or expand the facilities.
Protecting the state’s military installations is vital, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a news release issued Friday, because of the 10,000 jobs and $1.9 billion in economic impact they account for. The state is also touting its air bases for the service members deployed to help during and after superstorm Sandy.
“Throughout Hurricane Sandy and in the storm’s aftermath, we saw time and time again our military personnel on the front line, helping residents, keeping our streets safe, and providing critical supplies to those in need,” said Cuomo. “These grants will help communities across New York state join the state’s efforts to preserve these important military installations, as well as the thousands of jobs and the nearly $2 billion in economic impact supported by the bases.”
In addition to Stratton, located at the Schenectady County Airport in Glenville, the Watervliet Arsenal also received a grant totaling $300,000.
The Stratton base is not immune to threats of closure or realignment. In 2005, the U.S. Air Force recommending moving four of its planes and others from around the state to a new superbase in Arkansas. The nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission rejected the move on the grounds that it wouldn’t save the military any money.
The whole purpose of rounds of base closures in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005 is to eliminate excess military installations that receive millions in federal dollars each year.
When Stratton was included on an early 2005 list, then-Gov. George Pataki, U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, both, D-N.Y., then-U.S. Rep. Mike McNulty, D-Green Island, and Empire State Development fought successfully to remove it from the list.
The base, which is home to the 109th Airlift Wing and other defense units, employs nearly 2,000 people and has an annual economic impact of $123 million. It performs key military missions and provides airlift support to National Science Foundation missions in the Arctic and Antarctic.
“It’s a very unique base with a unique mission, and it’s very cost effective for the military to have this mission here,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority.
Metroplex, the Chamber of Schenectady County and the county Legislature worked together on the most recent state grant application, with the 2005 threat still fresh in their minds.
“It was a very real threat,” recalled Gillen, “and there’s been another one recently, outside the BRAC commission. And once you’re considered, you can be looked at again.”
The next round of closings will be determined in 2015, but talk of base closures outside of the commission has interested parties ramping up retention efforts. In May, the House Armed Services Committee rejected Pentagon calls for early base closures.
That’s why the Schenectady Military Affairs Council — created by the chamber, Metroplex and the county Legislature — continues to seek grants that will help advocate for the base. Local officials believe if a base provides a unique service apart from others, it can be safeguarded from closure.
“The 109th Airlift Wing at the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Glenville is the only facility in the United States that provides air cargo lift capability to polar destinations,” said Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, in the release. “In addition to the base’s strategic importance, it is a vital economic engine for the Capital Region.”
The grants announced Friday will be administered by Empire State Development. The Schenectady Military Affairs Council will receive the Stratton grant, which can’t be used to pay, retain or hire lobbyists or lobbying firms.