By State Rep. Dave Belton

National defense is our government’s greatest responsibility, which is why I am chairing the new House Military Affairs Study Committee to learn how we can improve the military value of Georgia’s bases. The committee’s second visit was to the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany and to Fort Benning where U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and U.S. Congressmen Austin Scott and Sanford Bishop joined us to protect our bases.

The committee heard from many experts from Washington. It is an incredible statistic, but 1 million Georgians (10 percent of our state’s population) are currently affiliated with the military. Nine out of the top 10 defense contractors have large presences in Georgia, and 752,000 veterans live in our state. Approximately 150,000 employees work at nine military bases in Georgia, resulting in an economic impact of $21 billion and making the military one of our state’s top five industries.

Because of Georgia’s current lack of seniority in Washington, other states have three times more congressmen on the Armed Forces Committee fighting for them than Georgians do. Though Congress does not support closing bases (as military demands are up, not down), the military is “realigning itself” to compensate for the draconian cuts it has already suffered. The military has already lost $500 billion and will lose another $500 billion due to the Budget Control Act and Sequestration – a total loss of $1 trillion.

The committee learned that once a base is placed on the closure list, there is an 85 percent chance it will be closed. No base improvements past that point matter because they collect data at that moment and do not accept revisions. The military value of a base is the most important metric, but close behind is k-12 education, which was referred to as Georgia’s “greatest challenge.” Encroachment and infrastructure are other major factors.

The Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany is one of only two Marine depot-level maintenance facilities. It has 450 Marines and employs 7,100 people, resulting in an economic impact of $1.5 billion annually. The base has 4 million square feet of warehouse space, no encroachment or environmental issues and is nearly at a net-zero energy status due to the base’s energy saving efforts. The base utilizes a solar farm, landfill energy, a bio-mass plan and a borehole heat pump. Amazingly, the base has reduced energy consumption by 40 percent since 2003 due to recent investments of $20 million from the federal government, $210 million from Proctor and Gamble and $80 million from Georgia Power. Gov. Deal recently invested $1.1 billion to move a Georgia Guard tenant to the base, further securing its future in Georgia.

K-12 education is one of our military’s top concerns and one of our state’s greatest challenges. The tri-county area around Albany addresses this issue by allowing children of active duty military personnel to attend the school of their choice. I will be proposing this innovative initiative on a statewide level for the children of our active duty, guard and reserve warriors.

Fort Benning in Columbus trains all armor and infantry soldiers in the Army. It is absolutely huge – bigger than all of metro Atlanta – and spills into Alabama. Fort Benning’s payroll is $100 million monthly and awards $250 million in contracts monthly. The base employs 28,000 soldiers, trains 60,000 soldiers annually and employees 76,000 people overall, resulting in a total economic impact of $4.8 billion annually.

Fort Benning was Georgia’s only winner of the 2005 BRAC, securing 10,000 new soldiers and investing $3.5 billion in on-base construction. However, last year Fort Benning lost 3,400 of those soldiers with a yearly loss of $427 million in sales and salaries to the Columbus area. Recent federal investments include a $9 million airfield tower, a $19 million land buy, a $5 million drone facility and $1.5 million in housing. Recent Georgia investments include $19 million in interchange improvements at U.S. Highway 27 and I-185, $51 million on I-185, $3 million on a BRAC Workforce Development Grant and $2.3 million on a Spouse Career Center. Georgia Power also created an $80 million solar farm there.

American warriors are still the best in the world, but there are much fewer of them and no longer employ the technological superiority they enjoyed just a decade ago.

The committee’s next visit will be at Fort Gordon in Augusta.

State Rep. Dave Belton is chairman of the House Military Affairs Study Committee. He represents the citizens of District 112, which includes all of Morgan County and the eastern side of Newton County. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2014, and currently serves as a member of the Economic Development & Tourism, Education, and Interstate Cooperation committees.