Georgia is proud of our eight elite military bases that represent every branch of our armed forces. Between our active-duty members, military reserve members and veterans, nearly 800,000 servicemen and servicewomen call Georgia home. But neither pride nor tradition alone will sustain them. We must continually invest, adapt and plan ahead to preserve and expand our military footprint.
Nowhere is our rich tradition of military excellence better represented than at Fort Stewart, which has long stood as one of the U.S. Army’s strongest installations. For over 75 years, Fort Stewart has trained America’s best and brightest, serving as the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River sprawling over 280,000 acres.
Located in the coastal town of Hinesville, Fort Stewart is used for world-class training of 50,000 Reserve and component soldiers each year. Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield play a vital role in the Savannah region with a nearly $5 billion benefit on the local area, adding to our state’s annual overall defense-related economic impact of $20 billion.
As lieutenant governor, I am committed to protecting, strengthening, and advancing Georgia’s many military assets. It’s imperative that our state strategically invests in these assets to continue fostering economic prosperity and create hubs of growth and innovation.
This week, Sen. Ben Watson, chairman of the Veterans, Military, and Homeland Security Committee, introduced legislation creating the Georgia Joint Defense Commission. The JDC will be charged with coordinating a statewide effort to promote greater collaboration between federal and state elected officials, military leaders and our communities to better enhance our overall military footprint.
In the immediate future, the commission will address the upcoming federal base realignment and closure by bringing all of Georgia’s resources forward to ensure that local municipalities, our state and America’s national defense are strengthened. It’s imperative that we not only bolster our state’s strong military installations, resources and personnel, but that we also continue to create additional opportunities for the thousands of exceptionally talented Georgians who have the skills and passion for the committed service that our nation’s military demands.
Creating the JDC is the most recent step in a series of targeted actions Georgia has implemented to promote the well-being of our state’s military personnel. Over the last few years, we have passed laws to: allow military children to attend any public school in their local school system, require licensing boards to adopt policies allowing military members and spouses to receive temporary or expedited licenses, ensure members of the Reserves cannot be fired for being called into active duty, increase the number of our students eligible for the Georgia National Guard Service-Cancelable Loan, and allow the Technical College System of Georgia to accept military service as academic credit towards a degree.
The United States of America is the greatest nation the world has ever known because of the courage and honor of the men and women who serve to protect our liberties and freedoms. The strength of our military has never been more important, and I will continue fighting to make Georgia the most military-friendly state in our nation. Our next generation depends on it.