Lebanon County forms Local Defense Group to protect Fort Indiantown Gap

Written by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News | May 29, 2015 3:30 PM
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Photo by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News

Lt. Col Dale Waltman (right), public affairs officer at Fort Indiantown Gap, and Lebanon County Planning Department Director Bob Sentz discuss the formation of a Local Defense Group with the county commissioners on Wednesday. The group will advocate for the Gap by assessing its importance to the nation's military and the county.

(Lebanon) -- The Lebanon County commissioners took another step this week to build a line of defense to protect Fort Indiantown Gap from future Base Realignment And Closure studies.

A year ago, the commissioners applied for a $25,000 grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development to organize a Local Defense Group that will advocate for the Gap by assessing its importance to the nation's military and the county.

With the money in hand, the time has come to organize a group to lead that effort, said the Gap's public affairs officer Lt. Col Dale Waltman.

The state, under then Gov. Tom Ridge, developed a policy to protect the state's military installations as a result of the BRAC closures and realignments in 1998, which resulted in the U.S. Army removing its garrison at the Gap in a cost-cutting measure, said Waltman.

As one of the county's leading employers with 2,000 jobs, the decision had a potentially large economic impact. However, that impact was mitigated by the Gap becoming a National Guard training center.

No BRAC study is imminent, but one is likely in the next several years, Waltman said, so now is a good time to organize a Local Defense Group to advocate for the Gap.

"A BRAC is a tool for cost-savings," he said. "The DOD (Department of Defense) is constantly facing tight financial pressures. ... (and) what is left to cut is to match facilities, to realign facilities and look for efficiencies."

The state's effort to protect its military installations is led by the Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission, which authorized the formation of Lebanon County's Local Defense Group.

The county commissioners are the de facto leaders of the Local Defense Group, but they will be supported by a committee that will include Gap staff members, county planners, local elected officials and key stakeholders who could include area business and academic leaders.

Its mission will be to conduct a "Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats Analysis" of the Gap, Waltman explained.

"The BRAC criteria traditionally focus on military value. What do we provide to the military," Waltman said. "Every installation will lose jobs and money into the community. So that's not our focus. Our focus, in DOD's eyes, would be, what value does Fort Indiantown Gap bring to the Department of Defense?"

No decisions on who will sit on the Local Defense Group board was made Wednesday, but it was suggested by the commissioners that individuals be invited who served on a board which recently completed a Joint Land-Use Study of Gap and surrounding municipalities.

This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF. 

Published in Lebanon, News

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