State and county notables sang the praises of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst at a Tuesday hearing before the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, the group charged with assessing the future needs of the military branch.
Although representatives for the commission insisted the group is only gathering information, not planning for cuts, the strategic and economic importance of the base was emphasized by Joseph Donnelly, director of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders, and U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan, R-3rd of Mount Laurel.
"The importance of the joint base to our Burlington County community cannot be overstated," Donnelly said. "The joint base contributes approximately $6 billion in gross output to the regional economy each year. Obviously, that is a serious boost to our local economy."
Runyan reminded the commission of the crucial role the base played in supporting relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. By merging the operations of several branches of the military, he said, the joint base is a model for the more streamlined force of the future.
"Whether you look at the Navy conducting advance carrier aviation research at Lakehurst, the Marine Corps Reserve's MAG-49 flying "helos' on the McGuire portion of the base, to being one of four major Army Reserve power projection platforms and mobilization sites and deploying over 23,000 in support of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or around the world, there is no doubt that JB MDL is a key weapon in our nation's arsenal," Runyan said.
The afternoon hearing, which took place at the Clarion Hotel in Ocean County, followed a morning tour of the base. The recently formed commission has begun a cross-country tour to assess the Air Force's current operations, and the joint base was its first visit.
The commission was created as part of the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act after the Air Force clashed with members of Congress over proposed cuts in equipment and personnel.
The Senate Armed Services Committee rejected proposed cuts to the Air National Guard, and instead recommended fully funding the Guard's equipment and personnel for 2013.
The commission was formed after committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., called for a national commission to recommend changes in the Air Force's structure.