By Carley Dangona
WESTFIELD – The state’s Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force shared its vision for communities and military bases to establish a cohesive, synergetic relationship as the city of Westfield and Barnes Air National Guard base have created.
The Task Force kicked off its spring tour to a meager crowd, mostly comprised of event speakers and journalists. The Task Force hosted its meeting at North Middle School on May 12 to discuss its mission and goals. Adam Freudberg, policy advisor and executive director of the Task Force, emceed the event.
Attendees included Mayor Daniel Knapik; state Sen. Donald Humason Jr.; state Rep. John Velis; Richard Sullivan, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs; Col. Kenneth Lambrich, vice commander of the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes; Chris Willenborg, administrator of the Aeronautics Division at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT); state Rep. David Vieira; Lt. Col. Thatcher Kezer, mayor of Amesbury; and representatives from MassDevelopment.
“Barnes is a model National Guard Base,” Freudberg said, adding that the goal is to establish similar relationships among the other bases and their surrounding communities across the state.
Massachusetts is home to Barnes, Fort Devens, Hanscom Air Force Base, Joint Base Cape Cod, Natick Soldier Systems Center and Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee
These installations account for a total economic impact of $14.2 billion and more than 46,500 Massachusetts jobs. Additionally, these bases are hubs for partnerships with the Commonwealth’s defense sector. Massachusetts’ defense and homeland security federal contracts collectively generate more than 130,000 jobs in the Commonwealth, according to Mass.gov.
Freudberg stated the force was created by executive order in 2012 under leadership of then Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and is available for use by future gubernatorial administrations because law enacted it. The force keeps Commonwealth officials abreast of current activities of the bases that support all branches of the military. An important duty of the Task Force is to form partnerships between the military installations and the community such as nonprofits and industrial organizations.
Lambrich discussed Barnes’ role in Westfield and other areas of the state. He said that the 104th Fighter Wing is tasked with protecting the entire Northeast region, meaning that its men and women must be at “ready status” at all hours, 365 days a year. Since 2001, more than 3,000 troops have been deployed from the base, which currently serves to home of 18 F15 jets.
In addition, the wing assists during times of severe weather, removing trees and stacking sandbags to prevent flooding. During major events such as the Boston Marathon and various Fourth of July celebrations, the wing provides security details to protect the civilians.
Kezer said, “Military installations, in a lot of ways they look like a municipality.” Assigned duties include police forces, department of public works functions and more, he added.
Kezer said that the goal of the Task Force is “to strengthen the collaboration between military organizations and communities, increasing the value of both by sharing resources and bettering productivity.”
Willenborg discussed the recent $14 million runway renovation at Barnes. He said that the reconstruction wasn’t scheduled until 2017, but after the Fighter Wing and Knapik addressed the deterioration and commercial flight needs, the project was completed in 2013.
Willenborg estimated that the combined civilian and military use of the Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport supports more than 2,000 jobs and generates “economic output of $180 million in funds.”
Vieira spoke to the Commonwealth as a leader in supporting “interdependent relationships” between the bases and the communities they call home.
“We had the shot heard round the world in Massachusetts. We have the oldest active constitution of any democracy in the world. We had the first fighter receptor wings scramble at the beginning of the war on terror, even before we knew it was a war on terror. On Sept. 11, 2001, I woke up to the thunder booms of the 102nd Fighter Wing going over my house. We have a history and a tradition in Massachusetts of doing things necessary to protect our future and also to contribute to the future of other nations,” Vieira explained.