As the Pentagon begins another round of budget-cutting base closings, Texas Congressional members are trying to gain, rather than lose, those dollars. The lawmakers want the Department of Defense (DoD) to save money by moving the military headquarters for the U.S. Africa Command from Stuttgart, Germany, to Ellington Field in Houston. A bit far off the battleground, you say? Don’t laugh. The U.S. Central Command, which has U.S. military responsibility for 20 countries from Afghanistan to Yemen, is headquartered in that exotic Arab city of Tampa, Florida. OK, so the commute to work is lengthy.
We’ve got to land that base. It would bring in an estimated 4,300 civilian and military jobs, and up to $450 million pumped into the local economy annually. This move would help not only the Houston area but all of Texas when those sales taxes start flowing to Austin. Ah, but you are wondering, “What’s in it for me?” A fortune. Imagine those thousands of troops and their families coming to live in Texas. Think of the bars, tattoo parlors and, OK, brothels are illegal here, but we have pay-day loans sharks who prey on the military. They are numerous and virtually unregulated. We can offer good weather except during hurricane season and good Tex-Mex food. Besides, if we land the Africa Command, Texas has many African-Americans who are sharp, friendly and have been laid off by NASA next door.
Grabbing this cash cow is traditional. Texas now has 15 military installations with 148,000 active-duty personnel and more than 55,000 members of the DoD civilian workforce. The military has Fort Bliss, Fort Hood, and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi plus most of San Antonio. In 2012 an economic analysis was conducted which found the military’s contribution to the Texas economy had an output of $148 billion, a GDP of $83 billion and $55.56 billion in disposable personal income. Another study showed DoD military expenditures, including military and DoD civilian payroll, totaled more than $30 billion in 2011, and more than $23 billion in 2012, (you can see we are losing ground). That makes Texas the third largest recipient of DoD funding in both years. Did I mention our military contractors? Without manufacturing those $500 toilet seats they would go bankrupt.
Before you open your muffler-repair shop across the street from the barbed wire, watch towers and flood lights, you need to know some background. We begin with the Western Monthly Magazine, October, 1838.” . . . the Texians being entirely a military people, not only fought, but drank, in platoons.” Gen. Robert E. Lee said about his Texans, “Their ragged clothes make no difference. The enemy never see their backs.”
However, remember this observation we’ve quoted before: “The whole state of Texas counts on the expenditure of money for Army supplies, and when a Congressman tackles the appropriations bill he joins issue with the whole state from Dan to Beersheba.” — Dr. Samuel Smith, U.S. Army, Camp Charlotte, Texas, July 4, 1879.
Fast forward (excuse the cliche) to World War the Two. The Handbook of Texas tells us that, although the state had 5 percent of the nation’s population, it provided 7 percent of those who served in the armed forces. Texas A&M alone provided more officers for the armed forces than both of the military academies combined. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox later declared that Texas had contributed a larger percentage of men to the armed forces than any other state. By the end of the war 750,000 Texans, including 12,000 women, served in the armed forces. In that war 22,022 Texans were killed or died of wounds.
During the Vietnam War, then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison noted that one in every 10 active-duty military personnel was from Texas. They made up 5 percent of the nation’s population and took 15 percent of the war’s casualties. Nothing has changed: 588 Texans died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan from January 2002 through Dec. 24, 2012, according to the federal government. A report in 2007 found that Texas and Harris County produced more Army recruits that year than any other state or county in America. Bexar County ranked fourth. (By 2010 Harris County had slipped to fifth.) But the quality of recruit was falling.
As for Ellington, which is just south of Houston, on the afternoon of 9/11 exactly four airplanes were allowed to fly over America: Air Force One and three Texas Air National Guard jet fighters from Ellington which were ordered aloft to escort President George W. Bush who, ironically, had been a member of that very same outfit. The air base keeps avoiding the Pentagon hatchet by serving as home to NASA astronauts’ flying machines, reserve and National Guard planes and other facilities, and the Coast Guard’s orange helicopters that go out to the Gulf to rescue drunken fishermen who fall overboard.
Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, in Travels With Charley, observed “Among other tendencies to be noted, Texas is a military nation. The armed forces of the United States are loaded with Texans and often dominated by Texans. Even the dearly loved spectacular sports are run almost like military operations….Sectional football games have the glory and despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners.” If you’ve ever been to the UT-OU game or witnessed the Aggie halftime performances, you know what Steinbeck is describing.
Texans’ constant complaint that we send more money to Washington than we get back used to be true. For decades we received 90 cents for every dollar we sent to the feds. But a Dallas Morning News investigation found that in six of the past eight years, including the entire tenure of President Barack Obama, Texans got more out of the federal Treasury than we put in, a major factor being our huge military allocations. So Texans are now getting back more than we pay. Keep up the good work.
Ashby is greedy at email@example.com