Back to Pork at Ft. Pickett

fort pickettBy Peter Galuszka

It was curious that Gov. Terry McAuliffe, while emphasizing that the state needs to wean itself from the sweet milk of federal spending, pushed a very interesting government project in the piney woods of Nottoway  and three other counties.

In his speech to the 2015 General Assembly on Wednesday, McAuliffe said he was “thrilled to help convince the State Department and the General Services Administration to choose Fort Pickett as the home of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, bringing as many as 500 jobs and millions in investment along with it.”

The U.S. State Department has been trying for years to get an adequate training facility for its guards and U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. The U.S. Marines they use are pretty much ceremonial and the deployment of private armies such as the former Blackwater of Moyock, N.C. is fraught with problems as several recent high-profile court trials attest.

The need for well-trained, non-privatized guards was underlined on Sept. 11, 2012 in the bloody siege of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Last spring, Ft. Pickett, a Virginia Army National Guard base, was chosen for the $461 million Foreign Affairs Security Training Center which will create 1,500 permanent and part-time jobs.

It’s a project both parties can love. Republican U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes and Robert Hurt are smitten as are Democratic U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and of course, McAuliffe. It may be ironic that the Ft. Pickett site can draw such bipartisan support in Virginia when Republicans beat everyone up so badly, especially former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, over Benghazi. It’s also curious that a national security expense like this goes down so easily with politicians while accepting federal money to expand Medicaid coverage to 400,000 lower income Virginians is such a no-no. Conservatives argue that Medicaid would hurt budget discipline, but won’t this training center do the same?

The State Department says it has 2,000 security people in 160 countries and plans 75 more. They now take a 10-week training course at a military base in West Virginia that includes a local race track that is considered inadequate.

Ft. Pickett is probably a logical site. Its 45,000 plus acres were carved out of several counties during World War II and an airfield was built. During the Cold War (as now) the facility was used for artillery and tank practice since its rolling pine-gum forest somewhat resembled the terrain of Eastern Europe where the real fighting might be.

It had been marked for closure but somehow survived, sustaining the small town of Blackstone where one often sees troops in utilities at the local Hardees or McDonald’s. From time to time, Ft. Pickett hosts special guest trainees such as the Navy SEALS, the Marines, Army rangers and Delta Forces, the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement and others. I live about 20 miles from the base and from time to time, my house shakes either from artillery shots or helicopters that roar at low altitude. One particularly loud weekend, I looked up the fort’s website to see who was there. It was the Canadian Army shooting up Old Virginny.

There was a rumor going around a couple years ago that Ft. Pickett housed a to-scale mockup of Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan and that SEALS used it to train before killing him. The story was so juicy that it ended up on the Blackstone Chamber of Commerce Website for a while but I don’t think it is true. It was probably in North Carolina at a CIA base at Harvey Point on Albemarle Sound or at Ft. Bragg.

The State Department facility will be built on 1,500 acres of land and supposedly 10,000 students a year will use it. I can’t understand where they get that number if there are only 2,000 State Department guards, but never mind.

The base used to be fairly open. When my German Shepherd was alive sometimes we’d drive down there to see what was going on. Usually, nothing, but on occasion you’d see helicopters or an Air Force cargo jet practicing takeoffs and landings.

The facility will help the local area but I am sure the old access will be limited. Meanwhile, it’s back to federal money that Virginia loves so well, at least in this case.

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22 responses to “Back to Pork at Ft. Pickett

  1. Wait! Are they not afraid the Feds will pull the money back later like they are with the MedicAid?

    very confusing!

  2. One day I was walking down the street. I looked down and what did I see? A $20 bill. Do you know what I did? Picked it up and put it in my pocket.

    Good for McAuliffe.

    • well what if it’s the Feds who are offering you the 20? Do you turn it down because you think they may not offer any more 20’s?

      • I have to say larryg, I’m afraid Virginia will look like a doofus in 10 years over this decision. I read that even the incoming Governor of Texas, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, is even looking at a way to expand Medicaid (the Texas Way or some other sobriquet) to get the federal money.

        The problem with Virginia is that if Texas does go ahead and take the federal money, then you obviously know the feds will not go back on their 90% commitment. At that point, so many states will have fully invested in the program that the Congress (including the Texas Congressmen) are going to vote to fund that commitment. And where will Virginia be?

        I thought the Hanger-Watkins proposal was a decent compromise. I’m afraid we will be looking pretty silly in a couple of years….

        • It’s dumb on a number of levels. The money from the Feds does not come out of the general revenues and will have no effect on the deficit and debt and thus the only way the money goes away is if Congress takes away the earmarked taxes and reductions to tax exemptions.

          In other words – the complaint that the govt will make cuts in spending and will defund it – don’t hold water.

          and when you compare it to other Federal programs – like transportation, like the military and like the existing MedicAid program – all of them would be in theory equally vulnerable to the same reduced funding scenario but not a penny of that money is rejected … not a penny.

          so what this is all about is not money at all because on a worst case basis – if money actually was cut – then we’d just cut our programs also.

          so instead, the GOP is not under not providing basic health insurance to WORKING Virginians, they’re turning down several billion dollars and thousands of jobs – (they’d NEVER turn them down if they were military).

          Finally – these folks go to ERs… not just ERs.. they don’t get primary care so their diseases are not managed but instead progress to the point where their lives are endangered and then they not only go to the ER – they go to the hospital to get hundreds of thousands of dollars of reactive medical care to try to bring them back from the brink – when they could have been kept from ever getting there – had they been seeing primary care on a regular basis.

          and the money spent on charity care – COSTS ALL VIRGINIANS – not only in cost-shifting at the hospitals but in subsidies to hospitals.. and ultimately cutting staff to ERs to save money – which will affect EVERYONE that goes to the ERs.

          it’ s just flat ignorant -… but .. it’s “the Virginia Way”.

      • I think Terry McAuliffe supports Medicaid expansion. He is not the problem.

    • I agree. While we need a helluva lot of new, non-government businesses, it would be foolish to turn down some government installation.

      • TMT – you wouldn’t care if the work itself was useful or costly to the govt?

        If the govt said – “I’ll give you a billion dollars to hire doctors and nurses to staff rural community health clinics” – you’d turn it down?

  3. Interesting angle on a story, which I haven’t seen covered anywhere else.

    I’ve been beating the drums about the need to diversify Virginia’s economy away from federal spending, but if this training center is going to plop in our laps, what’re you going to do? Turn it down? If the private economy were booming and the federal presence would crowd out private activity, I’d say, yeah, maybe. But that’s assuredly not the case. So, good for McAuliffe.

    My only question is this: Will the state have to chip in funds to make this happen? If so, how much, and for what? Could we invest the money to better effect elsewhere? If not, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

  4. Hey, I know. Virginia did beat Georgia for this center which is probably necessary given all the global terrorism. Still, it points out Virginia’s perpetual conundrum.

    Plus, as larryg points out, if Virginia can grab this federal money so easily, why is it turning down billions in Medicaid benefits? The conservative argument against Medicaid is that it might blow out the budget, etc. Would not this center do the same?

    Are protecting diplomatic missions more important than providing lower income Americans with adequate health care?

    • re: ” Are protecting diplomatic missions more important than providing lower income Americans with adequate health care?”

      well.. I don’t necessary believe we should “give” anything to anyone just because they “need” it.

      but with health care – we provide care to folks who need it already via EMTALA so unless the hypocrites are going to stand on principle and advocate repeal of EMTALA then the situation we are in – is how to do that in the most cost-effective way we can – and denying primary care to people until their undetected disease explodes and THEN we’ll provide charity care is just loony.

      we keep hearing about the loony left from Bacon and others – but how loony is it to force people to wait until their disease will costs hundreds of thousands of dollars before we treat them – and we all pay for that?

      it’s ignorant.

  5. re: ” but if this training center is going to plop in our laps, what’re you going to do? Turn it down?”

    good question.. so why turn down MedicAid? it’s billions of dollars and thousands of jobs – and many of those jobs would be in areas of Virginia that need more jobs… and those jobs could be ones for those kids.. in school with no future… unless they move.

  6. I am near certain that the State Department very much wanted to put this particular facility on the Easton Shore partially in Talbot County (as I recall). I believe the Government had the land under contract before the locals caught wind of the Feds’ Stealth’s Maneuver. The covert invasion effort raised a super big stink, a row that mushroomed even bigger when the locals learned that these training exercises would use High Explosives In the Field to train the anti-terrorists.

    Fortunately after much name calling and political infightening the Feds got chased all the way back across the bay. So peace and tranquility was restored and it now reigns across the Land of Pleasant Living to this day. And Virginia got the hind part.

    • Military bases around the Washington area have signs out front that say “Noise is the sound of freedom”. IN other words, they’re proud of their “booms” and brag on the jobs provided and how the local economy benefits.

    • “The Land of Pleasant Living”! I love it. Will hoist a Natty Bo to you the next time I can get one in my hands.

  7. Back in the 1990s Barbra Streisand came to the Low County, the Sea Islands clustered along the South Carolina Coast, and there on Port Royal island, in the town of Beaufort, she decided to replicate New York City.

    Her plans were elaborate. Many Manhattan Apartment scenes were shot in the Beaufort Arsenal on Craven Street. The Naval Hospital Beaufort became New York’s Bellevue Hospital. Lowenstein’s Manhattan apartment was filmed in a Beaufort warehouse on Beaufort Street. A sound stage built in a gymnasium of the technical College of the Low Country caused traffic outside to be diverted to film a rape inside. The Grand Dame all but took over and brought Beaufort to a standstill, save for one local who refused to bend to the Diva’s threats.

    This occurred after she marched into the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, demanding that its commanding officer shut off the damn noise of warplanes landing and taking off at the base, and terminate all flights during her filming of the movie Prince of Tides.

    “Can’t be shut off, replied the Colonel, “the noise you hear is the Sound of Freedom.”

    To insure that the Madam did not forget, the Colonel hung a very large and long sign that flanks the Air Station’s front gates to this day decades later.

    • yes.. NORMALLY – when the govt says it’s want to build some kind of facility nearby that provides jobs – and maybe a little “noise”, the locals fall all over themselves to make them feel to home…

      and when/if they say they gotta go – all kinds of Congress critters are called to do what they can to make them stay…

      You don’t have to be NoVa or Hampton to be this way.. it happens all over the USA from the boondocks to the cities.. and it is the rare locality indeed that says “no thanks – now get your shaggy butt out of here”.

  8. Reed,
    I have probably lived around as many military bases as you have and I think you miss my point. I am not really complaining about the noise, I am looking at the politics of funding new bases when the trend is against government spending. Actually, this facility is likely a good idea given my experience as a journalist overseas, but I am not sure you understand my view. What does Barbra have to do with filming “Prince of the Tides” in Beaufort and my post? A bit of a stretch, I’d say.

    • yes. what Peter is getting to – is the hypocrisy of “Conservatives” who talk about govt spending , deficit and debt… i.e. “the govt cannot create jobs only the private sector can” , entitlements are a “drag” on the economy.. on and on .. the mantra of the right.

      they blather on about DOD being “only” 5% of the GDP as if entitlement spending was also not in the same 5% range because they play this little game of contrasting DOD spending to GDP..while ignoring that entitlement spending is a similar percentage because GDP is about 15 trillion and DODis about 600 million.

      even then they are being dishonest because when they say DOD they do not mean National Defense because then they’d have to include things like the VA, Overseas contingency, Homeland Security, DOE nuclear ship reactors and weapons, NASA military satellites, etc. – they are in the range of entitlement spending for Medicare and MedicAid, Chips, food stamps, etc.

      so the portrayal is that entitlements are “crowding out” – defense spending – at a time when our defense spending equals to about 1/2 our total outlays and totals up to be more than the next 10 country’s combined to include all of our allies as well as the Russians and Chinese – is dishonest but them again the gullible are numerous and clueless.

      what does this have to do with Fort Pickett?

      EVERYTHING – because the GOP in Virginia have never met a Federally funded military or national defense facility that they did not like – and would never turn down the money for – at the same time they’d turn down money for the MedicAid expansion on the grounds that’s it’s expensive and the country can’t afford it.. but any new proposal for national defense spending they fall all over themselves sucking up to Uncle Sam even if it added to the deficit and debt.

      It makes one wonder exactly what the principled position of the right really is because it’s not about what they say it is… All military spending IS discretionary – which means it is funded from general revenues and can be discontinued at any time. The Medicare Expansion, on the other hand, is NOT funded from the discretionary budget. It is funded from specific taxes – “earmarked” taxes much like FICA for Social Security or gas taxes for fuel. The money will never go away UNLESS congress actually gets rid of the earmarked taxes.

      My problem with the right is that they are not honest in their positions. If they were honest – they would admit the value of govt spending – for ANY purpose and they would hold a position with respect to ANY govt spending – REGARDLESS of the purpose.

      but instead what they are saying, in effect, – is that it’s okay for the Feds to fund a security expert at Ft. Pickett but not a Nurse Practitioner at Norton or some other place that lacks medical facilities for people.

  9. Peter –

    I totally agree with you hook, line, and sinker.

    This facility deserved to go on a military base, and those bases , in my mind, are precious and sacred ground.

    Problem was that earlier in Talbot county the State Department didn’t play it straight. They came in undercover and tried to fool people as to what was really going on. The cynic in me suggests that they didn’t think a military base was good enough for them. In fact I think it is likely quite the reverse, that they need to prove they are good enough for taking up Military ground.

    As to the latter point, for example, you point out this thing cost 400 plus million bucks to build a training facility for 2, 000 guards and warriors. And those proposing this are the DC bureaucrats, (not the trainees and people on the ground) that brought us what happened in Benghazi.

    These are questions I have, but I think all concerned here did that right thing. But that these questions remain, as I think you suggested.

    In any case I agree with your article and thank you for it.

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