By David B. Pittman –
Southern Arizonans strongly support U.S. military facilities and operations where they live.
If there was doubt about that sentiment, it was erased by a recently released public opinion poll, commissioned by the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance – or SADA – which shows 92 percent of Southern Arizonans support area military installations and 75 percent of those surveyed indicated their backing of those military operations was “strong” or “very strong.”
The survey, conducted by Strongpoint Marketing, also shows the vast majority of Southern Arizonans recognize the importance of local military operations. For instance, 88 percent of those polled said military installations benefit the local economy, 85 percent said they are important to national defense, and 80 percent said they create a sense of pride in their communities.
The poll was released in conjunction with Mission Strong, a community outreach campaign from SADA aimed at informing the public of the importance of U.S. military installations in our region and providing Southern Arizonans the opportunity to express their support of continued military operations here. The survey of 617 was conducted in Pima, Yuma, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties, as well as in parts of Pinal County considered within metro Tucson.
“It’s evident from recent announcements by the Department of Defense that Southern Arizona’s military assets could be in serious jeopardy – which would take a great toll not only on our communities, but on our national defense,” said Mike Varney, president and CEO of Tucson Metro Chamber, and immediate past chair and a founding member of SADA. “It’s also very clear that we Southern Arizonans support our military but have had no central place to come together and vocalize that support. We now have that with Mission Strong.”
According to a Bloomberg Government Study released in 2011, nearly $5 billion in federal defense dollars flows into the metropolitan Tucson region, making it the seventh top recipient of defense dollars among all U.S. cities and number one in Arizona.
A study released in 2008 by the Arizona Department of Commerce entitled “Economic Impact of Arizona’s Principal Military Operations” concluded the state’s military industry, which includes military operations and the businesses they support, was responsible for creating 96,328 jobs and $9.1 billion in economic output.
The U.S. military budget, which underwent 10 percent cuts because of the Defense Act of 2011, is further threatened by the continuing effects of sequestration, which mandates across-the-board federal spending reductions unless Congress agrees on a deficit-reduction plan. There is widespread belief among political and military leaders that growing federal deficits will force a new Base Realignment and Closure process after the next presidential election.
Five previous BRAC rounds conducted in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005 resulted in the closure of more than 350 military installations.
“There is a danger in a BRAC,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Donald Shepperd, who makes his home in Tucson. “I do not think a BRAC will come before 2017 – but you will start hearing about it being set up because the nation has 30 percent too many bases, according to the Department of Defense.”
Shepperd, who formerly served as a military analyst for CNN, said the coming BRAC would put Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Southern Arizona’s other military assets “in competition” with every defense installation in America.
Ron Shoopman, a retired brigadier general and president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, said that in a future BRAC process “only the best bases – the ones that are the most efficient, most effective and most supported by their communities – will survive.”
A major reason SADA commissioned the public opinion survey was to measure the amount of support residents of Tucson and Southern Arizona have for their military installations.
Like Shoopman and Varney, Mike Grassinger, CEO of the Planning Center and immediate past president of DM50, is a founding member of SADA. Grassinger said local business leaders visited Washington, D.C., in July 2013 to discuss the future of Southern Arizona military installations with leaders in both Congress and the Pentagon.
“One of the things we heard very clearly at that time, particularly from people at the Pentagon, was that they were uncertain about the level of support of the Tucson community when it came to supporting the military,” Grassinger said.
In March 2014, just after polling results were compiled showing overwhelming community support for Southern Arizona military installations, Grassinger was part of another Tucson business delegation that visited military and political leaders at the nation’s capital.
“We presented the results of the survey and we certainly had a change of attitude” among military brass, said Grassinger. “If there is a future BRAC process, local support for military installations could make the difference between communities as to whether a base gets closed or not.”
Another development causing concern regarding the future of Tucson-area military installations is a proposal from the Department of Defense to retire the Air Force’s entire fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft, which is the primary aircraft stationed at Davis-Monthan. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wants to mothball nearly 300 A-10s by 2020, and replace them with F-35s – a fifth-generation, all-purpose stealth fighter jet currently being developed. Hagel said parking the A-10, which he called an outdated aircraft, would save $3.7 billion over five years.
The F-35, the most heavily software-driven aircraft in history, is also expected to eventually replace several other military jets, including the F-16. The Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport is the International F-16 Training Wing for the U.S. Air Force.
Members of SADA have said it would be disastrous to Tucson’s economy if future F-35 training is not undertaken here. “We are trying to grow the aerospace and defense industry in Southern Arizona,” said Varney. “Having the F-35 here is a critical component of the future of that industry.”
The SADA-commissioned poll indicated there is moderate local awareness of the F-35 aircraft. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed indicated they knew of the F-35, while 24 percent said they’re “very aware” of the aircraft.
According to the poll, support for the F-35 is strong among those who are most aware of the aircraft. Among those who said they knew about F-35 development, 82 percent are in favor of having it stationed in Southern Arizona, while fewer than 10 percent are opposed.
The survey also indicated that among those living closest to where the F-35 would be stationed, 80 percent are in support of having the aircraft stationed here, while 12 percent are opposed.