Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Conservative’s Viewpoint
NO OLF in Northeastern North Carolina

Article by Bob Steinburg - Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

On December 18, 1903, the headline on a front page of The Virginian-Pilot was “Flying Machine Soars 3 miles in teeth of high wind over sand hills and waves at Kitty Hawk on Carolina Coast.” The era of aviation was born in eastern North Carolina. Now, one can fly coast-to-coast in five hours or less.

Our military, too, has been transformed from its emphasis on ground troops to high-tech aircraft soaring in the stratosphere able to deliver a payload with pin point precision to its intended target miles below.

While computers handle the technical side of things, it is still essential to have military pilots who are well-trained and capable of landing a $50 million aircraft on the decks of a carrier at sea.

The Navy, since 1999 has been trying to secure an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) so its pilots from the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach can practice touch-and-go landings before they attempt the real thing on the decks of a carrier. Few would disagree that the training is essential.

That’s not the issue.

What has caused the uproar is where the Navy wants to establish the landing field. Early on, the Navy zeroed in on a 50,000-acre site in Washington County. Land would have to be sold, a poor county’s tax rolls severely diminished, and a peaceful and tranquil countryside transformed into a constant barrage of thundering aircraft overhead. Environmentalists were outraged, pointing out that the proposed location is too close to a wildlife preserve that is the home to 50,000 migratory birds. From the National Rifle Association to the Audubon Society, everyone said “not here”.

Politicians stepped into the fray opposing this potentially economic and ecological disaster from taking place. Victory cannot be claimed yet for those opposing the field’s location here. The Navy states that this is still their preferred site.

North Carolina has presented six more sites for consideration. Two are in Gates County, two in Camden County, and two more are near Jacksonville. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole said she wants to send a message to the military that North Carolina is still a military-friendly state. Indeed we are, as witnessed by the eight active military bases including the Cherry Point Naval Air Depot, Pope Air Force base, Seymour Johnson Air Force base, the New River Air Station, Simmons Army Air Field, Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune and the U. S. Coast Guard Air Station in Elizabeth City. Dole would like to see a future flight base located in North Carolina and does not want to jeopardize that possibility.

On September 18th of this year during the governor’s study panel in Raleigh, Navy Admiral David Anderson said that Cherry Point could handle the training for two squadrons there and would not be using the proposed new OLF. Originally the Navy’s reasoning for placing it in northeastern North Carolina was their desire to have an air field that would service both Cherry Point and Oceana. It now comes down to the needs of Oceana in Virginia. The Navy states a new OLF is needed there even if there were no further encroachment within a 100 mile radius of Oceana.

Recently, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine offered 10 sites in his state for an OLF, including Fort Pickett in southside Virginia, which has 45,000 acres and two landing strips. With some retooling of the airstrips this base could adequately meet the needs of Oceana.

Poor planning by the Navy and greed on the part of Tidewater Virginia developers have placed Oceana’s needs in this box. And Tidewater residents are fed up with the incessant noise the F/18 super jets create and want something done about it. Interesting to note that a significant number of military retirees have moved to North Carolina to escape the noise.

For the Navy, rural North Carolina seemed like a logical choice for the OLF site, even though Virginia is reaping all of the economic benefits from Oceana and should be more than willing to foot the bill for an OLF.

Northeastern North Carolina, which is mostly rural and poor with a miniscule industrial base, would be economically devastated if the Navy puts an OLF here. This has nothing to do with patriotism or an unwillingness to provide land for training our pilots, but everything to do with economic survival. There are many choices available to the Navy for an OLF that do not include economic and environmental destruction to an entire region of the state. Many in northeastern North Carolina seem unwilling to become the sacrificial lamb when the Navy has a myriad of suitable alternative sites available.

I am not yet ready to agree that our Navy is as mistaken as Bob and others think that it is. I am also discouraged that so few in our area are willing to listen to the possibility that by the time the OLF is built, we will need it desperately.

First let me concede that at this point the training requirements of our pilots . . . the purpose of a new OLF . . . are being met. At this point.

Let me also concede that I don't think the choice of Washington County, the site preferred by the Navy, is as free of environmental impact as the Navy says or as horrible as its opponents and the politicians feel it is.

So what is my concern?

Sometime in the next few years we are going to see nuclear bombs going off in American cities. The war against Islamofascism is not being managed in a fashion that this risk will be stopped. We are going to have to fight this war with a superior air capability.

In the face of this the arguments against an OLF are being touted with such exaggerations as, "a peaceful and tranquil countryside transformed into a constant barrage of thundering aircraft overhead," "opposing this potentially economic and ecological disaster" and "economically devastated."

I received an email where people who are my friends, or at least who I thought were my friends, adamantly insisted that the goal had to be to STOP ANY OLF. Not just in our area, but ANY OLF. This was not based on any kind of careful analysis of what is best for America but simply based on their NIMBY reaction to the possibility that if an OLF went forward, the location near us MIGHT be the best place for it.

From their analysis it was clear, the future was not their problem. During the 30s we had in America an attitude that we did not want to worry about what happened in the world. It is a sobering reality that more than 60% of Americans do not believe that the war against us by the Islamofascists has to be fought. Those Americans believe that we can just ignore the Islamofascists, retreat from the world, and live peacefully with them.

No statement by any of the Islamofascist leaders that dispute's their delusion make any difference to the anti-war "bring our troops home" . . . . appeasers (there is no other word that accurately sums up the position) who vote this way in the polls. The Islamofascists have been at war against us since 1978-1979. We ignored repeated attacks until 9/11 and after 6 years of no attacks on our homeland, many are ready to return to the innocence of pre 9/11. That innocence was . . . . and still is . . . . a delusion.

The OLF will not be an economic devastation wherever it is built. "Seymore Johnson Air Base" is right next to Goldsboro and has not slowed the growth there. "Oceana" is right next to Norfolk and has not slowed the growth there. Bob's solution, "Fort Picket" is right next to Blackstone, Virginia, less than 30 miles from Petersburgh and it has not slowed the growth there. I guess I want to ask Bob what growth does he really see being slowed? The growth that the enviromentalists are determined will not happen in NE NC no matter what? These are the people he is aligning himself with since they are the heart of the NO OLF movement.

Elizabeth Dole has now adopted the policy that she will only support an OLF if the people in an area support bringing it in. I wonder if this is her position even if no area will accept the OLF and we lose Oceana? Is there any point at which anyone will say, "if it is important to America, bring it here?"

Freedom is not free. Tell that to the NO OLF brigade. In the meantime do not expect that any rational analysis of the site choices will be made. It will be all politics, the worst kind of politics. With major players being anti-war and appeasement groups that are opposed to America in every case.

The best summation of my position came in an email from friend Holly Koerber, "I want to commend Carolyn Riggs for her Letter to the Editor in today's Daily Advance. It is refreshing in today's world of knee-jerk emotionalism and promotion of self-interest to be reminded that our Nation's defense needs are owed a fair hearing. Each of us benefits tremendously by the freedom secured by our Armed Forces and therefore we should be willing to hear the military's training needs . . ."

Are we willing to listen or does self interest trump everything?


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