Friday, May 22, 2009

A Conservative Viewpoint
- No OLF: Un-American?

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

Memorial Day is a time we pause to remember those who have died in service to our nation. Cemeteries here and throughout the nation and world will be adorned with American flags or flowers placed near the markers that bear the names of American patriots.

Patriotism runs deep in northeastern North Carolina. Look no further than the many cemeteries and memorial gardens that dot the landscape from Elizabeth City to Rocky Mount to Kinston and all points in between. These hallowed grounds cradle the remains of relatives and friends who either served our nation dutifully through their military service, or contributed to our country’s survival and independence in other countless ways.

Folks, including military retirees, relocate here because it reminds them of all that is good about rural America. Here live a proud people who are aware of the historic role this region played in securing our nation’s independence. The Albemarle’s rich fertile farmland has served as a global breadbasket. People here love God and many attend church regularly. And few community gatherings begin without taking a moment to first salute our nation’s flag. This is Norman Rockwell’s America.

Last week the Raleigh News & Observer featured Rick Martinez’s column: “Telling the Navy to get lost.” I don’t know Martinez personally, but I am guessing he has never lived in the Albemarle. He argues why citizens in Gates, Camden and Currituck counties should bow down and genuflect to the Navy who want to locate an outlying landing field (OLF) in the back yards of a place Martinez apparently knows little to nothing about.

He tries to compare today to the dark days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. America was ill-prepared for war then, certainly not a world war. Unemployment was in double digits and our industrial complex was still reeling from the Great Depression.

Japan’s military might was unquestioned. America believed they would soon be landing on our shores. Those dire circumstances required immediate and decisive action and the U. S. responded. That patriotism has not been forgotten.

Today, we’re also at war, with a military preparedness that’s different than in December 1941. We’ve ramped up our military over the last eight years, so we’re less vulnerable than we were 58 years ago. But we still must maintain our military might. To do that our soldiers and sailors must be the best trained, best equipped and most prepared fighting force in the world. To help insure that happens, Americans should be willing to sacrifice for any military “need” when called upon to do so. But locating an OLF in northeastern North Carolina is not about need but about politics and circumstance.

Eastern North Carolina is among the poorest regions in the country; also one of the prettiest. It has no significant industrial/ manufacturing base. Unemployment, in good times and bad, continually ranks among the nations highest. To survive here the folks must capitalize on what God has so abundantly blessed this area: peace and tranquility, fertile farmlands, meandering scenic waterways, beaches, quaint historic towns and villages, and “patriotic” God loving people. These gifts are what drive our region’s economy.

A few years back this section of the state began promoting itself as the “Inner Banks” of North Carolina. This on-going marketing effort is resulting in an increase in tourism and Baby Boomer retirements to the temperate climate, scenic vistas and warm hospitality of the Albemarle.

Many are military retirees who hail from Virginia Beach, home to the Naval Air Station at Oceana. Yet a lot of of them are opposed to an OLF locating here. They came here to escape the noise, pollution and cookie-cutter urban existence found in their former “port of call.” And a significant number of them believe putting an OLF here, is nothing more than politics.

I, too, feel the Navy is seeking an OLF here for two primary reasons: Poor planning at Oceana that has resulted in the Navy being landlocked and unable to expand in an area that derives significant economic benefits from their presence; a desire on the part of many in Hampton Roads who benefit from the military’s economic largesse, to export only the noise pollution to northeastern North Carolina.

Martinez writes of the Navy’s proposed addition of $4.5 million to our region’s annual payroll. An area in desperate need of good paying jobs would be expected to enthusiastically embrace such a windfall; but not this one. According to state Agriculture commissioner Steve Troxler, an OLF here would have a devastating impact on agriculture in Camden, Currituck and the surrounding region. Tourism would also suffer. And what about those seeking the “Inner Banks” as a place to retire because of the serenity currently found here? It appears we’d be losing much more than we would gain by saying yes to an OLF. The aforementioned three items represent the most significant portion of our region’s economy. To jeopardize them, is jeopardizing almost everything.

Many families have lived here for generations. They’re humble, hard-working, good people who want nothing more than to protect their farms, the environment and their way of life. They simply want to provide for their families. And the undeniable truth is this: Pilots can be trained elsewhere. If there were a real need for an OLF and no other physical options available to the Navy, the folks here would say,” Come on down!” But that’s repeatedly been proven not to be the case. To suggest otherwise, denies reams of documentation to the contrary.

To impugn an entire regions patriotism, as Martinez has done, while ignoring facts and history, is not only insensitive, but ignorant. This isn’t about, “not in my backyard,” as some have suggested. It’s not about the folks here being un-American either. This is about fighting to preserve the economy of northeastern North Carolina.

I have posted a number of articles against the OLF, so it is clear that in general Bob and I are on the same side in this discussion. With an Honorable discharge from the USMC, a pretty good track record of supporting our troops and a love of fighter jets that causes me to run out and watch them when they buzz us here on the Chowan (my neighbors are puzzled and annoyed that I don’t hate the noise the way they do), I think I can confidently say that my opposition is not anti-military or anti-jet noise. My opposition is that there are so many cheaper and more intelligent options that are being ignored for political reasons. There is a perfectly good base up near Blackstone VA, a 15 minute flight by the jets that will use it, called Fort Pickett. I wrote the article here almost 2 years ago. Nothing significant has changed. Opposing the OLF is not only not unpatriotic, supporting it is unpatriotic as far as I am concerned.


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