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Legislators confident about Fort Drum funding in defense bills

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FORT DRUM — U.S. lawmakers appear confident that Fort Drum will receive $138.2 million for three projects that have been identified in two competing pieces of defense spending legislation.

A defense authorization bill passed by the House of Representatives and a bill that cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee have identified three projects for funding: $95 million for an aircraft hangar for the post’s Combat Aviation Brigade, $25.9 million for a new missile defense data terminal complex and $17.3 million for a new specialty care clinic.

“It’s a great budget for Fort Drum,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in a phone interview. “I think the Army realizes how important Drum’s mission is.”

The equal funding levels in each bill could be a sign of their viability when House and Senate negotiators meet to craft a final spending bill.

“That’s always a good sign,” said Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, in a phone interview. “If we had partial funding of one of the projects in the Senate bill, I’d be less confident.”

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in a statement issued through her office, said she was confident in the projects’ future.

“This federal legislation would help improve support services for the soldiers stationed at Fort Drum and ensure our men and women in uniform have the very best facilities and opportunities,” she said.

That confidence comes despite looming debates about the size and shape of the budget.

“I think we’re in a strong position to prevail,” Sen. Schumer said.

One of the areas of debate when the two bodies work out differences in the bills will be the funding of a study to assess the placement of missiles at an East Coast site. Fort Drum is thought to be one of the potential sites, as the projected funding of a missile data terminal would make the base the first East Coast site to have such a facility. The two other sites that have similar terminals, Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., have missiles on site.

The House bill allocated $100 million to find and assess such a site, while the current Senate bill does not have any such funding.

The study comes as Pentagon officials voice limited enthusiasm for the project.

Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters at a briefing Thursday that such a site was not part of any submitted budget proposal and that Pentagon leadership said the capability wasn’t necessary.

“We don’t believe we need it right now,” Capt. Kirby said.

Rep. Owens, who opposed the inclusion of such funds in the House bill, reiterated that he still was looking for input from post leadership that the site would not deter from other work on post.

“We don’t want to do anything that affects Fort Drum’s mission as home of the 10th Mountain Division,” he said.

Other issues that could create friction in a combined defense budget are social-issue-driven portions of the two bills. The House spending bill would prohibit same-sex marriage ceremonies on military installations and provide more protections for service members voicing disapproval of their gay counterparts, while the Senate bill would allow for female service members to receive military-funded abortions in cases of rape or incest. Current rules allow for such abortions only when the mother’s life is at risk.

Both Rep. Owens and Sen. Schumer indicated the proposals could be dropped to move along negotiations.

“Where we should be focused is making sure soldiers have what they need to do their jobs,” Rep. Owens said. “I’m sure they’d be more concerned that they have the right body armor than some of these other issues.”

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