ALBANY — Business and political leaders on Wednesday honored the military personnel stationed in the Capital Region, saying they’re an indispensable part of the nation’s defense and a benefit to the Capital Region economy.
The Capital Region Chamber estimates the regional economic impact of the military at better than $1 billion. The Chamber’s Unified Military Affairs Council, which exists to raise awareness of the military installations here and maintain their viability, joined several area legislators to honor them.
One after another, the speakers noted the specialized unique nature of the active-duty military installations in the region:
- The U.S. Army’s Watervliet Arsenal is the nation’s only large-scale production facility for large-caliber cannons.
- The U.S. Navy’s Kesselring Site in West Milton is one of only two facilities that train sailors to operate the nuclear reactors that power submarines and aircraft carriers.
- The N.Y. Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing is the only U.S. military unit that flies LC-130 cargo planes, equipped with skis for takeoff and landing in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
One might therefore conclude that the military facilities are safe from cutbacks or closure — and many people do just that, organizers said Wednesday. That’s why the Chamber created UMAC and continues to publicize the economic impact of the local bases — because they aren’t safe from cuts and closure.
UMAC chairman Ray Gagnon, a 25-year Marine Corps veteran, recalled that the late Chuck Steiner, a longtime Chamber leader, recruited him for UMAC after he left the Marine Corps. Its mission was very simple, he said: highlight the importance of the military presence in the Capital Region and ensure its longtime viability and success.
“In 25 years in the Marine Corps, travelling all over the country, in one place I’ve never seen so many units that were so special,” he said. “In some cases, they’re the only unit in the world doing the mission that they do.”
Gagnon added: “And we fight every day to keep them here. They are that important. And I challenge everybody to help us with that.”
Asked how likely it is that any of the installations or missions here could be reduced, eliminated or relocated, Gagnon said the issue recurs periodically. During past rounds of military cutbacks, the Air Force bases in Rome and Plattsburgh were greatly reduced in mission and closed, respectively, despite the best efforts of those communities.
However, a potential cutback at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Glenville, home of the 109th, did not go through.
Gagnon said he doesn’t know when this process will happen next.
“It really depends on whenever Washington decides to look at it again ... We stand ready, and make the case as to why our military installations need to stay here.”
Also speaking in support of the military and its Capital Region presence Wednesday were legislators including Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, and Sen. James Tedisco, whose districts includes the Kesselring Site and Stratton ANG Base; Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, whose district includes the Naval Support operation in Saratoga Springs; Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, whose district includes the Arsenal; and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, an eight-year Army veteran.
Breslin, Santabarbara and Tedisco hosted Wednesday’s ceremony at the Capitol.
Tedisco said the notion that the local military facilities always will be here is false.
“New York is always a challenged area because we have so many military bases,” he said. “So they’re always going to be looking at us in some way or another. There’s never really a visible threat. It can come out of nowhere and it can come very quickly.”
The 109th Airlift Wing is a potential candidate for relocation to another base, Tedisco said.
“For the 109th, they’re specialized in what they do, so I think we can always use that argument. You don’t want to interrupt the effectiveness of what they do. We have to make the case for all of the military installations in that sense.”
Santabarbara recalled his many weekends at the Army Reserve center on Hillside Avenue in Niskayuna, and said if it had been closed, he might have needed to relocate.
“If that base wasn’t there, maybe I wouldn’t be living here any more,” he said. “The fact that that base was there improved my quality of life.”
Santabarbara said local military facilities are an important part of the fabric of a community, supporting non-military jobs. They also allowing military personnel to develop or maintain their local roots.
“We’re sort of in preservation mode here, we’re trying to keep what we’ve got,” he said.
“We’ve got to be ready for [future cutback proposals], and I think we have the [economic] data. That’s the other important part: This is not data we just came up with, this is data collected over the past decade that we have ready and available now at our fingertips.”