"If you have a military installation in your community, it's a right, not a privilege, and you have to earn that right every day," Robert McMahon said yesterday.
There's no guarantee that future defense budgets will be as adequate as they are today, he said, and that could mean cuts to installations that affect the surrounding communities. Also, there is always that potential for a future base realignment and closure, where installations are shuttered, as has happened in the past, McMahon noted.
Communities that support their installations will fare much better than those that don't do as much, he predicted.
McMahon provided some examples of community support that benefits installations as well as the communities themselves.
School quality is a major concern among families, he said. Communities that work to improve learning environments are much welcomed, and sometimes, federal grants are available to do this, McMahon said.
Ensuring that the community is a safe place to live is another concern, he said. Not just safe from crime, McMahon said, but with safe drinking water, safe housing and infrastructure safeguards to mitigate natural disasters such as flooding and cybersecurity.
Communication between communities and installations is the key to making this all happen, McMahon said. One of the first steps community leaders can take is to meet with their installation commander and discuss mutual concerns.
Communities and their installations are places where service members and their families "live, eat, work, play and pray," he said. As such, ensuring a high quality of life will help ensure that installations are permanent fixtures.
Mark Correll, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for environment, safety and infrastructure, noted that it's also important for communities and defense manufacturers to work together to support each other in similar ways.
John A. Kliem, executive director of the Navy's Energy Security Programs Office, said Naval Support Activity Mid-South and the city of Millington, Tennessee, collaborated on a win-win project for both. The Navy leased 450 acres to the community for a horse farm and solar farm and the air station received lower rates on their energy bill.
A second example, he said, is Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, which is working with the city of Honolulu to provide reliable energy required to meet the needs of Navy and Air Force missions.
A third example, Kliem said, is Naval Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, which is working with the community of Groton to get a natural gas backup in case power to the grid goes out as it did in 2012, when Superstorm Sandy swept through.