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It's about what?

By By Craig Ziemba / guest columnist
June 23, 2002
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.
It's been interesting watching Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, trying to convince voters that he will fight harder than Chip Pickering to ensure the survival of NAS Meridian. More interesting than Shows' promise to fight for the base is the reason he thinks NAS Meridian should stay open. According to Ronnie Shows' oft-repeated sound bite, "It's about jobs for Mississippi."
I respectfully, wholeheartedly disagree. The mission of the military is not to provide jobs for Mississippi. The purpose of the military is to fight and win wars and to defend our way of life.
Ask a Naval aviator why he flies off the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier; ask a National Guardsman why he leaves his family to deploy to the backside of the desert, and I doubt either will say it's to fuel the economy of East Mississippi.
NAS Meridian should stay open not because we need employment, but because America needs Naval aviators to put bombs on target. Our argument in front of the next Base Realignment and Closure Commission should be that due to airspace and other factors, our Navy demonstrably needs more than one base (Kingsville) to train enough pilots to keep 12-plus carrier airwings flying. And the war in Afghanistan has proven yet again how indispensable Meridian-trained pilots are when you need to reach out and touch someone.
Shortsighted politicians would serve their constituents better by taking a look at the bigger picture and presenting the case for NAS Meridian based on what we contribute to national defense rather than what the military contributes to us.
Too often Mississippi's congressmen view the military as a means to bring home federal bacon in a self-serving effort to buy our votes. This is demeaning to those who place themselves in harm's way, and in the end leads to poor decisions based upon shallow motives.
Fewer and fewer veterans are serving in a Congress where both parties seem to have less and less understanding of national defense. Republicans accuse Democrats of being weak on defense, and rightly so, but some Republicans turn around and waste many of the defense dollars they fought so hard to get on bogus programs in their home districts.
Three years ago, a $1.1 billion federal loan guarantee was approved by Congress to help Northrup Grumman Shipbuilding in Pascagoula (Trent Lott's hometown) build cruise ships. The public-private venture fell through last winter as the drastic decline in tourism caused the market to collapse.
The fact that federal dollars  my taxes and your taxes  were used to build cruise ships in the first place is bad enough, but it gets worse. Senator Lott and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor included a clause in this year's defense bill for the U.S. Navy to explore the feasibility of buying the ships and converting them for use as military vessels.
Having spent the '90s as a Naval aviator, I can say with certainty that the Navy has more pressing needs right now than buying luxury liners. The fleet is aging, air wings are in dire need of parts and new airplanes, and training is often short-changed due to lack of money.
Asking the Navy to buy cruise ships is like asking an NFL team to use their first-round draft pick on a ballerina. Sure, you can bulk her up a bit, but you only have so many picks, and the defense department only has so many dollars. Why ask someone to throw the big game, especially when there's a war on?
You know why. As Ronnie Shows says, "It's about jobs for Mississippi." Or more specifically, it's about jobs for incumbents and big contracts for their buddies. All that's expected of us taxpayers is to be meekly grateful for what trickles down to us and unquestioningly reelect our sugar daddies to Congress.

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