Jefferson City, Missouri. As Congress continues to look at ways to reduce spending, more people are suggesting that military spending is a place to save some of those dollars.
And, with two major military bases — Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base — as well as a successful National Guard operation throughout the state, Missouri leaders want to do more to make sure the budget changes don’t cause major damage.
“Our biggest threat is the (federal) budget,” said Mike Dunbar, president of the Security Bank in Waynesville and St. Robert, and chairman of the state’s Military Preparedness and Enhancement Commission. “With sequestration, there are going to be cuts.
“The game has changed, and communities are having to get out and let everybody know what a great place the state of Missouri is, as compared with someplace else,” to host military operations.
State Treasurer Clint Zweifel joined with several lawmakers Wednesday to honor the military’s role in Missouri, by hosting the state’s first “Military Awareness Day” at the Capitol.
“The military does such a great service for our country and our state,” Dunbar said, and the day’s goal was thanking military officials for their service — and “so that everybody in the state understands the importance of our military (and) the economic impact that they have on the state of Missouri.”
Dunbar and Zweifel both noted that economic impact — in direct jobs, supporting jobs and the benefits to a variety of local businesses — adds up to about 265,000 jobs and a $40 billion a year impact, statewide.
At Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman, the military activities also have a direct impact on the local schools.
“That creates opportunities for us,” said Judene Blackburn, superintendent of the Waynesville R-6 School District at Fort Leonard Wood. “That constant influx of students certainly keeps us on our toes.
“And it also means that students have been all across the country and the world, so they add, as they’re coming into our district, a variety of worldly experiences that are very positive.”
Blackburn has been in the district for 11 years, and superintendent for eight.
With the fort’s continued growth and expansion in recent years, she said,
“Our student population has increased from about 4,500 to 6,000 (and) we’ve had about $110 million in new construction or renovation occur over the decade.
“We’ve also, as we’ve grown, done a good job of retaining accreditation with distinction status — so, we’ve paid a lot of attention to continuing to deliver quality instruction, and making sure our students are prepared for whatever’s next for themselves.”
Nearly two weeks ago, Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order creating the “Missouri Military Partnership,” named Zweifel as its head and gave him to March 31 to write a report about the military’s importance to the state.
“I am the only person in that partnership,” he said. “My goal is to, really, coordinate and not replicate efforts that we have at the local and state and regional levels.”
Zweifel said his report will go to Nixon, “but this will be a report that the Legislature will be able to use, that our policy leaders in the congressional delegation can use and that, ultimately, our policymakers in the state can use.”
His goal, Zweifel said, is to make sure that “we’re in a position to compete for the long term, in any environment — regardless of that environment.”
He added: “We have a clear national security interest to enhance and invest in our military institutions in this state.”