Kitsap County isn’t taking military presence for granted

A delegation of Kitsap County leaders recently traveled to Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Puget Sound Naval Bases Association.

For the second consecutive year, I have accompanied this delegation as the local government representative. Braving an East Coast blizzard, we met with high ranking leaders in the United States Navy and our congressional delegation. The goal of the trip was to continue our strong partnership and collaboration with the United States Navy.

While our county is not immune from the effects of the national recession, we are fairing much better than other communities due to the stable employment our naval bases provide.

Kitsap County’s unemployment rate is 1 percent lower than that of the state of Washington. We have benefited from an increase in the Navy’s presence in recent years.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Navy has shifted forces strategically from the Atlantic to the Pacific fleets. Along with the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and our Ohio-class submarines stationed at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Kitsap County is now the homeport to all three Seawolf attack submarines.

In total, 13 submarines are stationed in Kitsap County. To accommodate future needs, the Navy also has planned significant investments in infrastructure such as the construction of a new super pier at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS).

So, with the Navy’s footprint increasing in Kitsap County, why should we travel to our nation’s capital to voice our support?

Many people know my dad is a pipefitter by trade and still works at PSNS. Like many Kitsap families, my dad has worked for the Navy as a civil serviceman for more than 30 years.

At the end of the Cold War, the Navy was downsizing from President Reagan’s envisioned 600-ship fleet to something drastically smaller. Instead of preparing our nation for a standoff with another superpower, our national security was threatened by smaller rogue nations throughout the world.

At the same time, Americans called for a “peace dividend” that would allow for military dollars to be invested here at home.

The result was the closure of many military installations throughout the country.

During this time, my dad worked at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, Calif. Mare Island, along with Alameda Naval Air Station closed, pulling the entire presence of the Navy out of the Bay Area.

My dad was one of thousands of workers who lost their jobs. The ships that remained active were shifted to other bases.

Many of the ships from the Bay Area were shifted to San Diego or the Puget Sound region. My dad, who was working on the USS Parche at the time, was able to get transferred to Kitsap County, where he remains to this day.

That experience at an early age — your dad losing his job — has had a strong impact on my outlook as an adult.

Looking back, one of the major factors that led to the decision to close the bases in the Bay Area was a lack of support from the community.

Frankly, it was frustrating to not have your local congressman, legislator or local government official providing visible leadership, partnering with an employer that had a significant impact on the regional economy.

To be sure, many elected officials and business leaders protested the closures when they were announced. However, by the time of the formal announcements, the die had already been cast.

What was needed wasn’t support when it was clear the bases were going to be closed. Instead, support should have coalesced years prior.

Communities should have sought ways to support active duty personnel. Educational institutions and labor should have been aware of training or skills needed in a future workforce.

Local leaders should have been engaged in issues such as encroachment, while federal leaders should have advocated for critical investments that would ensure the bases remain relevant as the needs of the Navy evolved our time.

This didn’t occur and the impact on local communities was staggering.

By working in concert with our federal delegation, the Puget Sound Naval Bases Association seeks to ensure our partnership with the Navy in Kitsap County remains strong — in good times and in bad.

It is imperative we do not take the presence of the Navy in our region for granted.

We are a county that values good schools, safe neighborhoods and a quality community in one of the most spectacular natural settings anywhere.

Our ability to invest in our community is dependent upon strong employment and family wage jobs.

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners recognizes the Navy as our most significant partner. We are committed to continuing a strong working relationship now and well into the future.

Josh Brown is the Central Kitsap County commissioner.

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