By ALAN J. ORTBALS
The success that Southwestern Illinois has enjoyed in protecting Scott Air Force Base and expanding its missions and facilities has attracted the envy of other communities and other states, according to former U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello.
“When I announced my retirement from Congress,” Costello said, “I received phone calls immediately asking if I would be interested in working for a couple of communities to try and do for them and their military installations what we were able to accomplish here with Scott. I think it is well known that we have great community support here; we work together and we got a lot of good things done for the area and for Scott.”
Costello said that he fully expects another round of Base Realignment and Closure in the not-too-distant future and other states and communities are not sitting idly by waiting for that shoe to drop. The concern, he said, is not that Scott would be slated for closure in a future BRAC but that it would lose missions to other bases.
“There are states that have appropriated several hundred thousand dollars and, in a few cases, a few million dollars to this effort,” Costello said. “It takes place every day. We have had people from other states come to Scott Air Force Base to look at the missions that are being performed there and making inquiries because they are targeting those missions to try to bring them to their bases. And if there are not people paying attention and working almost on a daily basis trying to be proactive — not only protecting what we have but bringing additional missions here — we could see Scott lose missions and wings to other bases, and that would not be good for the future of the base or the area.”
Costello was part of a three-man lobbying team that had been hired by Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois to work on protecting and enhancing Scott Air Force Base, but that contract expired last year. It was not renewed due to lack of funding, according to Ronda Sauget, executive director of the Leadership Council.
“We raised $1.2 million to fund economic development activities and the state was supposed to bring $2 million to the table,” Sauget said. “That money is not forthcoming now. It was not attached to any sustainable revenue. We were told we would have a better chance of going back in the future for new funding than getting those funds that were previously pledged.”
Given the state’s fiscal picture that may seem to be a long shot. However, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti has established a group to advocate for all the bases in Illinois.
“What we really need is for that group to be funded for all of the bases in Illinois,” Sauget said, “so locals don’t have to go out and spend money on private consultants. Lots of states, Florida, Texas and California, for example, spend millions of dollars every year on their state advocacy funds. Some of those hire lobbyists. But that’s hard for a little community to do and be sustainable. It needs to be our state doing it for all of the bases.”
In an effort to maximize impact with minimal funds, the Leadership Council holds monthly conference calls and ongoing, in-person visits to ensure that they have the best flow of military information between SWIL, our congressional delegation and the Governor’s Office about any activities related to Scott and/or military opportunities coming down the pipeline. This, Sauget says, provides the opportunity to hear any advance discussions related to military funding, changes in military base assets, and/or opportunities to attract new agencies and missions to Scott.
And the Leadership Council works hard to maintain a close relationship with base personnel.
LC staff and members meet with Col. Lenderman, commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing, and other base commanders on a monthly basis to discuss strategic initiatives and specific needs at Scott.
The Leadership Council also meets with the Scott AFB Airman and Family Readiness Center monthly and has supported 75-100 transitioning airman and their families on an ongoing basis with the following activities:
Mini Industry Specific Job Fairs – Healthcare, IT/CyberSecurity, Manufacturing/Transportation/Supply Chain Management, including on-site interviews;
Virtual Ongoing Job Fairs using the Scott Patriot 2.0 Web site listing industry specific military friendly hiring companies, so the virtual job fair will be easily accessible and ongoing from anywhere. McKendree University is supporting the development of this aspect and also supports efforts with student interns.
Building an Access Database to track over 600 military members and their job preferences, so they can be linked more easily with employers and follow-up to ensure no one is lost.
A Spring Networking Event is being planned for April 20, 2017 from 5 to 7 p.m. for transitioning airman with prominent companies offering sustainable jobs (Ameren, Phillips 66, et al.). This is also part of the Manufacture/Craft/Cyber Security Campaign. More networking events are planned for the summer and fall 2017 with the aim of building a strong workforce and leadership for the future.
Building a Cyber Security and STEM Workforce of Tomorrow with the Midwest Cyber Center of Excellence.
The close relationship between the community and the base has been recognized by the Air Force with the award of the Abilene Trophy.
“The Abilene Trophy is awarded to the community that provides the best support to an Air Mobility Command Installation,” said Lenderman. There’s a committee in Abilene, Texas, that grades all the submission packages that come in every year. The Scott Air Force Base community won two out of the last four years. It is a great honor and it says a lot about our community.”
Sauget said that plans are to submit an application for the 2017 Abilene Trophy award in January 2018.
Costello stressed the importance of being proactive and working constantly to protect and enhance Scott. He said that the area has great Congressional representation in Washington, D.C, but they have many other responsibilities and can’t be expected to constantly be focused on the base.
“That’s why you have to have a team working in preparation for the next BRAC like other states are doing,” Costello said. “Once the BRAC is created, that’s not going to work. The work needs to be done well in advance of the BRAC. There will be some opportunities. There is no question. I think everyone acknowledges that more money will be put into cyber, for example. The new cyber command at Scott Air Force Base that we just dedicated about six months ago is going to grow, but not necessarily at Scott. It could be growing at other bases. And one of the things that we were doing when our contract expired was trying to reach out and talk to the right people to make certain that we knew what was going on with cyber command and with future developments and to try and convince them that instead of going to a different location they should just bring it to Scott Air Force Base and add to the cyber coalition that we have here now. If you’re not working on that every day,” Costello added, “others are trying to.”