From America’s national security to preserving jobs in North Carolina, this is a critical week for North Carolinians to voice their support for our military. It is in our economic and security interests to do so.
On Monday, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., stopped in North Carolina to discuss the looming budget battles in Washington and their effect on America’s defense. On Wednesday, North Carolina’s aerospace industry met with Gov. Beverly Perdue to discuss the importance of preserving military programs in the context of budget threats, including an estimated job losses of 11,000 in North Carolina under a defense budget sequester, including many well-paying jobs requiring highly skilled workers.
Last month, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta explained that looming and drastic spending cuts threaten “the programs critical to our nation’s security.” Sequestration is the name given in Washington to an extreme form of Congressional budget control that triggers a series of mostly unplanned and arbitrary across-the-board budget cuts in January 2013. This will occur if Congress and the Obama administration cannot reach agreement on alternative federal cost-cutting measures.
Our neighboring state’s senator, Lindsey Graham, described the effects of sequestration to the Fayetteville audience. “You would be devastated. It would be like every major employer in my home state closing down at one time or cutting their business in half.”
As North Carolinians, we should urge our congressional delegation to engage in meaningful bipartisan efforts to stop this budgetary train wreck. Sequestration will hurt our economy, cut jobs in our state and threaten future economic recovery measures. Defense spending – derived from the men and women in uniform stationed at our eight military installations and the suppliers who make parts for various military programs – comprises nearly $22 billion of North Carolina’s economy. This is real economic impact we can’t afford to lose.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said that “I’m concerned about the impact sequestration could have on our national security, on our troops and their families. The armed services would have to reduce personnel strength – that means men and women in uniform lose their jobs. Training would be curtailed. Acquisition programs would be disrupted. Many are concerned that sequestration threatens to leave us with a hollowed-out military. I share those concerns.”
Our troops have seen multiple deployments to war zones, their families have suffered through the absence of loved ones, and now, we are threatening those same people who serve our country – over 125,000 currently residing in the state – with the possibility of forced unemployment.
Thousands of defense-related jobs pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the North Carolina economy. If sequestration is imposed, it will mean the loss of jobs across North Carolina. According to a recent George Mason University study, sequestration would devastate our state’s fragile economy: 11,895 job losses; $1.023 billion gross state product losses; and $500 million in personal earnings losses – all due to Defense Department cuts.
Finally, the economic vitality of a large portion of Eastern North Carolina – and the very future of Marine Corps aviation – is tied to deployment of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If sequestration is allowed to go forward, there is a real possibility that the Defense Department would reduce the number of F-35s it plans to acquire; thereby reducing the chances of the F-35s being stationed at Cherry Point.
North Carolina’s industry, military and workers across the state need the F-35 and other military programs to fuel our economic recovery and insure our future. It’s time to step up and protect America and North Carolina. I urge citizens to voice support for efforts to avoid sequestration.
Retired Maj. Gen. Hugh Overholt is a past judge advocate general of the Army. He is a member of the N.C. Board of Transportation and a past member of the N.C. Advisory Commission on Military Affairs. He lives in New Bern.