Op-Ed: Stay the Course for YARS and Camp Garfield

By Vito Abruzzino, executive director of the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission

WARREN, Ohio — During the past 12 to 18 months, much has happened concerning our local military assets. Both Camp Garfield – formerly Camp Ravenna – and the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, or YARS, have had arguably their best year in more than a decade. To that end, the community as a whole, our state legislative leaders and our federal delegation have all contributed to their recent successes, with a nice “push” from the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s advocacy arm, the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission (EOMAC).

Where we go from here largely depends on staying the course and continuing to ring the bell for our local military installations.

The Regional Chamber created EOMAC four years ago to defend and support the military missions that call our corner of the state “home.” With the help and financial support of the Chamber, Western Reserve Port Authority, Youngstown Air Reserve Base Community Council, The Trumbull 100, Portage Development Board and the Community Foundation of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, the Chamber and EOMAC have been able to accomplish some things for both Camp Garfield and YARS that would have been little more than pipe dreams a few years ago.

For one, Camp Garfield continues to be the best choice for a potential $4.6 billion East Coast missile defense site, and we as a community need to continue to lobby for its selection.

And you don’t have to take our word for it. Earlier this year, the independent Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance gave Camp Garfield its endorsement over the other two locations in the running. We look forward to hosting MDAA Executive Director Riki Ellison next year.

As for the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, the milestones that have been accomplished these past few years have resulted in the direct economic impact increasing for the first time since 2012, to more than $100.8 million. Just one example of direct economic impact is that YARS, the Mahoning Valley’s fourth-largest employer, spends more than $1 million annually on hotel rooms that generate bed-tax revenue for our tourism bureaus and port authority.

Specific accomplishments in 2018 include cutting the ribbon on a $9 million indoor firing range that is shared with local police agencies to train and qualify on their small arms, as well as securing $9 million in federal funds for a new, secure gate to help protect the facility from a future Base Realignment and Closure.

Through community advocacy, Camp Garfield was able to secure $8 million for a new crew-served weapons qualification range. This range will allow Garfield to become the preeminent training installation in the State of Ohio and on-par with installations that have much more name recognition across the reserve force, like Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia and Fort Dix, New Jersey. If we, as a community, continue to invest in advocacy to expand the footprint and training resources at Camp Garfield, it certainly has the potential to become a massive economic driver for the region, well beyond its current impact of approximately $30 million annually.

If lodging and barracks improvements at Camp Garfield are funded through federal dollars, as hoped, the sky is the limit, quite literally, on this gem that straddles Portage and Trumbull counties.

The future looks bright. In 2019, the State of Ohio is expected to create a cabinet-level position dedicated to our military installations. And in 2020, the Thunder Over the Valley air show featuring the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will return to YARS, pumping more dollars into the local economy.

Great things are to come if Eastern Ohio stays the course, buttressing our military assets. I look forward to continuing the work with all of our local supporters, including our state and federal elected officials, who together form the driving force behind the EOMAC.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.