By Congressman J. Randy Forbes
March 31, 2016
One of the many things that makes Hampton Roads unique is its relationship with the military. With approximately 82,000 military personnel, 43,600 civilian employees of the Department of Defense and thousands more civilians performing more than $8 billion in DoD contracts, Hampton Roads is an epicenter of U.S. military activity.
While all branches of the military play a significant role in the region, the Navy has the strongest presence. Naval Station Norfolk is the world's largest naval base and homeport for a large portion of our fleet — with four of nine carrier strike groups, three of nine amphibious ready groups, and more than a third of the Navy's cruisers and destroyers based in the region.
There are several reasons all that firepower is amassed here in Virginia. First, Hampton Roads is home to one of the best natural harbors on the East Coast. It never freezes, is relatively sheltered, has a deep channel, and there are no bridges to prevent Navy ships from entering and exiting. Hampton Roads also has a unique strategic asset in its maritime industry, which boasts shipyards capable of building any class of ship and about one-fifth of the entire nation's shipbuilders, according to the Census Bureau. Hampton Roads is where everything comes together: ships from the piers and dry docks, sailors fresh from training at Dam Neck Annex, aviators and aircraft from Naval Air Station Oceana and ammunition from Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. All these ingredients are combined in training areas off the VA Capes, where our forces undergo complex exercises to build skill and unit cohesion before deploying.
Hampton Roads is home to a lot of our military's brains, as well as its brawn. Norfolk is home to a number of Navy headquarters overseeing the fleet and its future development, as well as the only NATO headquarters on U.S. soil. Across the water, Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base is responsible for thinking about the future of air warfare, while Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis is where the Army is designing/building its future force. Throughout the region, modeling and simulation centers create virtual worlds where our warfighters can train and try out new tactics. And in one nondescript brick building on Norfolk naval base, the military is operating a Joint Information Operations Range, a virtual space in which U.S. government cyber warriors can safely practice waging cyber warfare without effecting civilian networks.
With all this activity, it's not surprising 45 percent of Hampton Roads' economy is supported by federal spending — mostly defense related — while 36 percent of jobs in the area are supported by the military. In fact, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission argued DoD spending is more important to the region than the automobile industry is to Detroit. The military creates economic growth and many well-paying jobs. But it can also render the region vulnerable to changes in defense policies and spending. That's why, when the Navy proposed moving a carrier from Norfolk to Florida and economists calculated approximately 11,000 jobs and $600 million in economic activity were at stake, I led the charge to block the relocation, and led efforts blocking the administration's plan to delay an aircraft carrier refueling. That's why I work to diversify our region's economy by strengthening ports, shipping, warehousing, tourism, space and transportation — industries critical to our region's growth. As chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, I fight every day to provide our military with the cutting-edge capabilities they need and to champion the critical defense industrial base that supports our military.
Last but not least, the military is important to residents of Hampton Roads because thousands of service members and veterans call this area home. When we flip on the news and hear about helicopter crashes, furloughs or long waits at the VA, often it is affecting people we know. When we think about military issues, we see faces. It's a neighbor who kisses his children goodbye before another deployment, not knowing if he will see them again. It's a daughter who raised her hand in service to her country at the age of 22. It's a family legacy stretching two, three, four generations deep. It's an empty chair at the table. It's the reason why I serve.
Virginia truly is the home of the brave. As residents of this unique region, it's our job to partner together, work alongside each other, and elect leaders who are committed to supporting our servicemembers, strengthening our economy and protecting national security. Because Virginia doesn't just rely on a strong military — a strong military relies on Virginia.
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