Committee pushes for advocacy of military affairs

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  • | 12:00 p.m. August 19, 2011
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by Karen Brune Mathis

Managing editor

Among more than a dozen recommendations, the Military Affairs transition committee recommends advocacy for assignment of an amphibious ready group at Naval Station Mayport and that the City’s military affairs division report directly to the mayor.

“Naval Station Mayport faces short-term challenges prior to the arrival of a nuclear aircraft carrier and Littoral Combat Ships,” the committee said in its report to Mayor Alvin Brown.

“One way to fill the operational void is to advocate for the assignment of an amphibious ready group or other lesser assets to be berthed at Mayport even before the nuclear carrier arrives,” it said.

Another recommendation considered an immediate priority was to reposition the Military Affairs, Veterans and Disabled Services Division as a direct report to the mayor.

“The current organizational structure has the division chief reporting through the Recreation and Community Services Department,” it said.

“This results in limited access and visibility, and relegates the office to a minor status within the administration.”

The committee said that raising the division chief to a cabinet-level post is “a high-value, no-cost, high-payoff proposition which significantly raises the profile of the office within the administration and the community, and should be mimicked at the state level.”

The committee prioritized the time frame for the recommended actions, including the immediate first 30 days in office; near-term 31-90 days; long-term, more than 90 days; and ongoing. It also included milestones and metrics for each issue.

Brown accepted the reports from 18 transition committees on Aug. 8, five weeks after taking office.

The committee also said it was willing to reconvene regularly and revisit the issues to help assess progress.

Among the suggestions:

Ongoing and continuous priorities

• Understand that the greater Jacksonville area’s military presence is more than Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport. Outreach to and visits with the senior leaders responsible for military facilities are critical. The committee listed about two dozen facilities with a military presence from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in South Georgia to the Northrop Grumman facility in St. Augustine.

• Advocate for the expansive array of military facilities, training complexes and militarily significant businesses in the greater Jacksonville region. The committee recommends that Brown work with Florida and Georgia congressional delegations and other senior political leaders in Washington, D.C., Tallahassee and elsewhere.

• Promote Jacksonville as the most military friendly city in America. The committee recommends Brown also support the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association, which is raising funds to build a pier near the Acosta Bridge and bring the retired USS Charles F. Adams to the Southbank to serve as a museum and tourist attraction.

• Sustain NAS Jacksonville and expand maintenance support activities, noting the P-8 aircraft are replacing the aging P-3 aircraft and the base will continue to operate at capacity. The committee recommends the administration advocate with Boeing to establish the P-8 maintenance workload at its Cecil Field facilities.

Immediate priorities

• The Military Affairs, Veterans and Disabled Services Division is properly staffed but must be repositioned as a direct report to the mayor.

• Naval Station Mayport faces short-term challenges before the arrival of a nuclear aircraft carrier and Littoral Combat Ships. It recommended that one way to fill the void was the advocate for the assignment of an amphibious ready group.

• Cecil Field has immense potential limited by a lack of hangar space. It said the U.S. Customs Service “desperately needs new hangar facilities” there and that an “upper-level” maintenance facility for the P-8 is a natural fit as are high-tech aerospace companies interested in Cecil’s spaceport license. It also called for more hangar space, a restaurant and retail facilities and that the mayor should seek support and help land federal grants.

• Retain, expand and recruit militarily significant industries. The committee suggests two task forces, one consisting of executives of large businesses and another of small to medium-size businesses to study what is available and what is needed.

• Construction of the Jacksonville National Cemetery and the federal road north of the Jacksonville International Airport intersecting with Interstate 95 represent not only the largest national cemetery in the country, “but a significant development opportunity for properties in and around the airport.”

• Refit and retrograde military assets from Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle East locations. “They key is to stay ahead of how the drawdown could influence and expand equipment maintenance and refitting, ship berthing and other activities.”

• Work with the Navy, Marine Corps, congressional leaders and the governor’s office to secure the relocation of Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron One to Jacksonville as its designated Atlantic seaboard homeport. “It said Blount Island is being considered as a location for the ships, which are now deployed. “The Navy has decided to return the ships to an Atlantic port beginning Oct. 1, 2012,” the committee reported.

Near-term priorities

• The mayor should continue the annual visit to key players in Washington, D.C.

Long-term priorities

• Advocate for Jacksonville as a medical center of excellence for the Veterans Administration. “With the Wounded Warrior Project headquartered here, it makes sense to link current medical research initiatives on head trauma and prosthetics to a Jacksonville-based VA medical center of excellence,” it said.

The report also included information about the proposed Veterans Memorial Center at Jacksonville.

The center would be developed near the main entrance of the Jacksonville National Cemetery. Its mission is “to memorialize the sacrifices of military veterans and their families” and serve as “a center that offers a solemn respite for remembrance.”

Plans show a 16,000-square-foot memorial center, a 2,300-square-foot archive enter, a 900-square-foot sacred space and four lakefront pavilions. The main building includes three exhibition areas and a multipurpose room.

The Jacksonville National Cemetery Advisory Committee, the Rotary Club of North Jacksonville, the University of North Florida and other organizations are involved in the project.

Another report about the Jacksonville Military Veterans Coalition is a proposal for the City to coordinate the development of the coalition to enhance employment opportunities for military veterans and members currently serving in the National Guard and Reserve.

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