08/20/10 — Senator makes stop at Seymour Johnson AFB

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Senator makes stop at Seymour Johnson AFB

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 20, 2010 1:46 PM

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Sen. Kay Hagan, with 916th Air Refueling Wing Commander Col. Randall A. Ogden, right, greets members of the wing during her tour of the new corrosion control hangar at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Thursday.

Just because there is no immediate danger Seymour Johnson Air Force Base will be in the Base Closure and Realignment Commission's sights doesn't mean the county should relax, one of the state's senators said Thursday as she visited the base.

The state and local communities should continue to support the state's military bases and to be vigilant about such issues as encroachment that could endanger their remaining in North Carolina, said Kay Hagan, the state's freshman senator.

"I think encroachment issues are very important from the military perspective when we look at a BRAC," she said following a Thursday afternoon tour of the base.

"I think North Carolina is well-positioned, especially compared to the other states, on the issue of encroachment around our bases. That was one of the questions that we talked about today, and my understanding (is that Seymour Johnson) is not so concerned about it now, but as we go forward, I think that we need to be sure that it does not crop back up as a problem."

She said it is obvious that the people of Wayne County realize that Seymour Johnson AFB is a "very large economic engine" for their county.

"We want to be sure it remains that way," she said.

It was Ms. Hagan's first official visit to the base as a senator. However, she said she is no stranger to Goldsboro and the base having visited numerous times, including going on a refueling mission, during her 10 years in the state Senate.

She also has a nephew, an F-15 fighter pilot, who was stationed at the base for about four years. He is now serving in Afghanistan.

Ms. Hagan was able to watch some aircraft take off and even though she has seen it before, she said it still "makes her proud."

She said she has already spoken to base officials about return visits.

"As a senator from North Carolina, I wanted to be sure that I could be on site so that the airmen here can see my support for what they do for our country," Ms. Hagan said. "And I would like to see firsthand the needs of Seymour Johnson so that I can be a stronger advocate on Capitol Hill. Also, the fact that I serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I think that it is very important for me to get to the military bases in my state."

As a member of that committee, Ms. Hagan said she is looking at issues such as plans for the Air Force's new tanker aircraft. She added that there are other areas of concern including efforts to increase the number of military and defense contracts in North Carolina.

"I think some of the important items that I want to work on are a new (control) tower and then the gymnasium is another item that is of particular interest to the base, to have those as priority items."

Ms. Hagan said she also supports the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program, a tuition assistance program for the spouses of military personnel. The program had been providing one-time allocations of $6,000 for spouses of military personnel who are frequently deployed or who move between bases.

The idea is to help the spouses have a "portable career," she said.

"All of a sudden the program was cut overnight," she said. "I sent a letter to Secretary (of Defense Robert) Gates and had some concerns about it ,and we were able to get the program back up and running. They have just now come forward putting out new guidelines, and it reduced the program from the $6,000 allotment to a $4,000 allotment.

"I think that education is critically important to families and that we need to re-institute that program at the original level to help the families."

The money is expected to be available in September, she said.

"Right now it is not really for undergraduate degrees and master's degrees and I think that is something it should definitely be used for," Ms. Hagan said. "It is more for certificates and licensing programs, but I think anybody going back to school today should be able to use it toward an undergraduate degree and/or graduate degree."

Prior to the tour, Ms. Hagain met with local officials including Mayor Al King, who is a a retired Air Force officer. After leaving the base, she traveled to the Global TransPark at Kinston to visit the new Spirit Aviation facility.

"I think it is critically important what the community of Goldsboro does and provides for the airmen on this base," she said. "We had an earlier meeting today with Mayor King and the other individuals who are part of the Military Affairs Committee -- great guys who are very serious about helping the individual airmen and their families. Whatever the community can do to help support them -- family readiness is a critical component.

"I think if you look at other bases around the country, I think Goldsboro is at the very top as far as the community support, and I think that is so important. I just applaud the leadership here and what they are doing."

Ms. Hagan noted that she has been to both Iraq and Afghanistan in her one and a half years in office.

"I have had the opportunity on several occasions to shake the hands of our men and women that are currently deployed," she said. "I salute them and congratulate them on the job they are doing each and every day."