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The Army conveyor belt is cranking up again

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Beatniks and politics, nothing is new. A yardstick for lunatics, one point of view.

JAN. 27, 2012: Those of us of a certain age know the scene from the TV show “I Love Lucy.” Lucy and Ethel are working on an assembly line at a chocolate factory where they must individually wrap each bonbon passing by. But as the conveyor belt speeds up, they are unable to keep pace. Fearful they will be caught allowing unwrapped chocolate to get past them, they begin stuffing pieces in their mouths and other more interesting places.

It was good for lot of laughs in 1952. Such scenes are not so funny in real life.

In 2004 former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced he was going to transform the Army – and thus every Army base – so that war could be waged more effectively.

Fair enough. But he announced the change before a final decision was made on national base closures. Which led to the following: Fort Drum was sent another 10,000 soldiers to be shoehorned into our tight housing market, while housing construction firms could not get financing because, alas, what bank is going to sink money into a housing project near an Army base that could be selected for closure?

We can sit here in the north country and repeat the mantra “Fort Drum is too important to close,” all we want. But bankers in Charlotte and Buffalo don't factor in mantras when making multimillion-dollar decisions.

And so the United States foisted on the north country its own bonbon scenario: YOU will take OUR growth while WE will take away YOUR ability to grow.

And the north country has been trying to stuff soldiers anywhere and everywhere ever since.

By the time our community was told Fort Drum was not on the base closure list, the north country had lost an entire construction cycle. Housing construction exploded after that but a couple of years later the economy faltered and construction money evaporated.

Today, the markets are freeing up more money, but we now live in a nation with a growing fear that somebody might make a buck or two building something. And so we fret and ponder about whether we should give a developer a tax break.

Put it all together and instead of three housing projects ready to open later this year in Jefferson County, we have one that is barely started. And those 20,000 soldiers assigned to Fort Drum? For the first time since the Rumsfeld ramp-up, they will all be here at one time by May.

Thursday's news that the Army will soon have fewer soldiers and fewer bases leads to an obvious question: which way is the conveyor belt going now?

Let's not wait. Let's get the talking points out there:

* Fort Drum is not here to pump $1.6 billion into our local economy. It is here for national defense.

* Fort Drum is vital to our national defense because of 20 years of military decisions. Those decisions include building training facilities and expanding Wheeler-Sack Air Field, which allows 10th Mountain Division soldiers to deploy quickly with the skill set necessary to control conditions on the ground.

* Those same military decisions make Fort Drum one-stop shopping for all branches of the military. The Air Force drops dummy bombs there, the Navy has used its facilities for ordnance training and the Marines have trained National Guardsmen in tanks at Fort Drum. Soldiers from nations around the world come to Fort Drum for training.

* Fort Drum and the future of waging war are intertwined. Computer-packing light infantry supported by drones is a reality. That some members of our state's Congressional delegation actually think drones should be based out of Syracuse instead of Fort Drum only proves that these politicians simply see the military as an economic engine rather than the protector of economic engines.

With that understood, we can now have a discussion on the economic impact of Fort Drum. But as the scramble over base closure intensifies, our community does itself no favors by putting the cart before the horse. We do not build housing, etc., so we can make money selling more cars and upping the rent to soldiers. We build because we are the host of a military installation that is vital to protecting our national interests.

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