Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter headed a long list of civilian and military officials who appeared Wednesday at the local hearing of the Georgia House Study Committee on Military Affairs.
Although many officials were shy about using the four-letter word: BRAC, the acronym for Base Realignment And
Closure, the federal process for shutting down or cutting back excess defense installations, BRAC lurked in the background of the committee sessions.
The resolution creating the 15-member House panel said that a BRAC is expected as early as 2017 and that, "it is critical that Georgia fights for the future of its military installations."
As part of that fight the committee has traveled around the state listening to individuals and groups that are part of the state’s military establishment and its supporters. As Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, a committee member, phrased it, "What can we, at the state, do to help you?"
Employment for soldiers’ spouses has long been an area of concern and Williams had sponsored a bill that was enacted as the Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act.
The act allows state agencies responsible for professional licenses and certificates to use several methods to assist qualified military spouses and transitioning veterans in getting documents required in Georgia.
After discussion with several soldiers, Williams said there was a glitch in one part of the licensure provisions and that it would soon be fixed.
The quality of schools is a major concern for military families and most speakers had high praise for local public schools, not only the Liberty County schools that serve the Fort Stewart area but Camden County’s school system that serves the Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay.
One committee member asked if state action could smooth the path of many military children who must transfer between schools as their parents move to different assignments.
The answer came not from one of the many educators in the room, but from Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Townley Hedrick who said he thought that would be a challenge for the state to attempt, but that it was handled effectively one-on-one in individual schools:
"It’s working well," Hedrick, said.
A deputy commander of the Third Division, Col.David Hamilton, said he thought Fort Stewart enjoyed the most supportive community of any Department of Defense installation he had known. Hamilton will soon wear the one-star insignia of a brigadier general.
Hedrick said he had served at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and thought that the two adjacent cities offered the best possible relationship with the military, but that he had found the Fort Stewart area "even closer, even more welcoming."
The committee heard from three Hinesville mayors, the current one, Allen Brown; his predecessor, James Thomas Jr., a retired military officer, and Tom Ratcliffe, a longtime member of the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee.
Mayor John Morrissey of St. Mary’s led a delegation that included Sheila McNeill, a defense advocate and honorary admiral. McNeill has served on the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee since its launch by Gov. Zell Miller.
Rep. Dave Belton leads the study committee. Its members were named by the speaker of the House. The members are Reps. Shaw Blackmon, John Carson, Mike Cheokas, David Clark, Heath Clark, John Corbett, Darryl Ealum, Mike Glanton, Bill Hitchens, Brian Prince, Ed Rynders, Richard Smith, Calvin Smyre and Williams.
Several other members of the state House attended the study committee session: Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah, Rep. Jeff Jones of Brunswick and Rep Jason Spencer of Woodbine.
The committee plans a meeting in Dahlonega to review its findings and work on a report.