Aug. 27, 2018

By State Representative Greg Rothman  

On December 17, 1941, ten days after the Japanese Empire attacked our military personnel based at Pearl Harbor, the Naval Supply Depot in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania was authorized by the United States Congress.

The Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission (PMCEC) together with the University of Pittsburgh published a new study, detailing just how important this Naval Support base has been for the United States Armed Forces in every major conflict since World War II.

The Mechanicsburg Naval Support Activity, located in Hampden Township, Cumberland County, is one of 12 major military installations in Pennsylvania which generate a combined labor income of $4 billion and $11 billion in total economic output.

The Department of Defense is the 7th largest employer in the Commonwealth, providing more than 56,000 jobs for civilians, active duty service members, and reservists from all our nation’s military branches.

In Cumberland County, the NSAM facility employs over 4,000 people including 146 military personnel, 3,371 civilians, and 753 contractors. Overall, activities at NSAM generate 8,371 jobs within Pennsylvania and over $667.2 million in labor income annually. The report called the NSAM “one of the U.S. Navy’s most important centers for supply and distribution,” and noted that “it is the largest employer in Cumberland County.” This center impacts several private industries in Pennsylvania as well, such as business support services and management of companies and enterprises.

With its logistical importance to the Philadelphia Navy Yard and Norfolk, Virginia, the NSAM is crucial to keeping our military supply depots “away from more vulnerable coastal locations,” as noted by the report. It has also been historically praised as a crucial hub for the military, due to its proximity to major urban centers in the Northeast, but without the high costs and major congestion.

An additional benefit is strong local transportation assets, including rail, highway, and air transportation, being readily available to the military in Central Pennsylvania. Other infrastructure, such as strong broadband capabilities and emergency personnel partnerships with local governments make NSAM an incredibly reliable asset to the military in Pennsylvania. NSAM has also been praised for its “high quality and skilled personnel,” as it benefits from being part of the healthy economy of Central Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, all these benefits to the US Military could be lost if NSAM were to be a victim of the Department of Defense plan to cut as much as 20 percent of our domestic military installations for being considered “excess.”

Central Pennsylvania has been a major logistical vantage point since the founding of our nation, which has gone from being a turning point in the Civil War to a supply hub for major World Wars and overseas conflicts like the Korean War and Vietnam.

Cutting resources at NSAM would put the United States at a security disadvantage.

Furthermore, Congress and the DoD should further examine bases overseas that are wasting taxpayer money. There are over 700 overseas installations that had maintenance costs upward of $85 billion in 2014 alone.

According to David Vine at The New York Times, “each year, taxpayers pay on average $10,000 to $40,000 more for each service member stationed abroad, compared with those at home.” Vine also noted that “closing more Cold War bases in Europe are obvious ways to achieve savings, and scrapping ill-conceived multibillion-dollar buildups in the Pacific and Persian Gulf are other important steps.” The reporter pointed out that air and sea forces have “largely erased” the need for overseas stationing of troops when we can “generally deploy troops just as quickly from domestic bases.” Excessive bases overseas have also been “convenient targets” for terrorist activity since the 1980s and potentially damage diplomatic relations by sowing tensions.

If we were to look at these costs of maintaining overseas bases and compare them with our advantages of having strong domestic bases in American towns, such as Mechanicsburg, it becomes clear that the “excess” the DoD is seeking to cut is not located at home.

These bases like the one in Mechanicsburg expanded to accommodate more for the military, and as they did so, military and civilian families prospered. There were good-paying jobs with sustaining benefits for civilians and there was a strong community for military families. This community is invaluable to my home state, the U.S. Military and the county for which I now represent as an elected official.

As a young Marine recruit in boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina, I remember looking down at the supply boxes and seeing “Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania” stamped on them. Hundreds of miles away from home, I felt a connection to the hard workers of Central Pennsylvania.

The NSAM is an integral part in our nation’s defense as a crucial supply port and labor force, and I will continue to stand up for its importance to America’s military readiness.