Our view: Fight for Duluth's fighters
The trip already was planned. Community and political leaders from Duluth already were heading to D.C. in April to meet with and to schmooze top military brass, to resell them on Duluth as a great home for the armed forces, and to advocate for ou...
The trip already was planned. Community and political leaders from Duluth already were heading to D.C. in April to meet with and to schmooze top military brass, to resell them on Duluth as a great home for the armed forces, and to advocate for our 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard.
Then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel dropped his bomb. In a speech Monday, he announced massive cuts to the U.S. military, including an active-duty Army as small as it was before World War II. The proposals for a leaner-and-not-necessarily-meaner military will be part of the defense budget going to Congress this week.
While the 148th doesn't appear to be in the crosshairs this time -- or any other Northland Guard, Reserve, Coast Guard or other military presence -- the trip to D.C. suddenly has more urgency and more significance. So we can be encouraged it's being led by a bunch with a bit of experience fighting for those who fight for us and our freedoms. The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee was created in 2003 when Duluth's Air Guard base was on the chopping block and was slated for closure under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Remember BRAC? Committee members from Duluth fought BRAC and won. And they're read to do it again, if necessary.
"The military cannot advocate for itself," committee Chairman Pat Mullen, the vice president of marketing and corporate communication for Minnesota Power, said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page. "They're at the mercy of the political process, and so really where we come in is to add some horsepower to getting out there and lobbying on their behalf. ... When you get some city officials and community leaders that can come out and talk about how important it is they take notice."
The group going to D.C. next month numbers 10 to 12, including Mullen, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon and the Minnesota adjutant general. They'll meet with military leaders, including many they haven't met with before. Many of the military leaders met with previously have since retired.
"We have a need to re-establish those connections and to demonstrate the community support for the 148th," said committee member Roger Wedin of the chamber. "You never know how those relationships work in terms of being thought of favorably when decisions are made."
The Northland's military presence is worth fighting to keep. The 148th alone is one of Duluth's largest employers with about 1,100 full-time and part-time members. The wing's annual payroll totals more than $40 million and its annual economic impact is estimated at greater than $85 million.
Working in favor of the 148th and its future is that it flies the Air Force's most-advanced and most-modern F-16 fighter jets.
"That makes us feel really good," Mullen said. "I think we feel reassured in the sense that the aircraft they're flying is an aircraft that'll be flying well past 2025. Now whether that means (the Duluth) base will remain here to fly it has always been another matter. So we still need to do all we can to make sure this base stays sustainable."
That's certainly true during times of military expansion. It's especially true with our armed forces being slashed.