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Guest column
State Rep. Dave Belton was elected in 2014. He is chairman of the House Military Affairs Study Committee - photo by Photo provided.

The state of Georgia has been blessed with many pivotal military champions. The Russell Senate Office Building, one of only six legislative offices buildings in our nation’s capital, is named after a Winder native who was a military advocate of historic importance. Milledgeville’s Carl Vinson, or the "Father of the Two-Ocean Navy," is one of only two non-presidents to have an aircraft carrier named after him. Sam Nunn is a living legend and has been a dominant voice for our military for decades. President Jimmy Carter was a graduate of the Naval Academy and a submarine officer who greatly expanded Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House and continues to be a champion for our distinguished military. Due to the efforts of these past giants, Georgia has the fifth largest military population in the U.S., with an economic impact that is estimated at more than $20 billion per year.

However, with mounting national debt and the drastic drawdown of our forces, the financial predicament of our military has reached critical mass. This threat is especially real as the military has lost a trillion dollars due to sequestration and the Budget Control Act, thus, causing combat strength to fall to historic lows, crippling maintenance programs, as well as investments in new technologies. It’s a sad truth that our Navy is as small as it was before WWI, our Army is as small as it was before WWII, and our Air Force is the smallest it has ever been. Even worse, we’re flying some aircraft that will soon be 80 years old. Few of us drive a car that is over 10 years old. Can you imagine flying over a vast ocean in a plane that is almost a century old?

The military has only one way to preserve force readiness: cut costs through consolidation. That means closing bases.

So where does that leave Georgia? Since we currently have the fifth biggest piece of the national military pie, it’s logical that Georgia has a great deal to lose. That’s why I introduced legislation that would form a House Military Affairs Committee during the 2016 legislative session.

The committee’s stated purpose is to "serve as a forum for members of the General Assembly - working with the Governor’s office and our federal congressional delegation - to find ways to preserve our military installations; expand business development opportunities; and honor Georgia’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines." As such, we’re gathering hundreds of stakeholders - congressmen, senators, state legislators, local chambers of commerce, local commissioners and leaders of local military installation partnerships - to visit and study our major military installations. This bi-partisan effort will strive to learn what the warfighter needs and produce meaningful legislation to ensure he/she is welcomed in the great state of Georgia. Nothing our government does is more important than our common defense. I’ve had the honor of serving our nation in the Navy and the Air Force for almost 23 years, and I look forward to working with our military leaders and legislators throughout the state to make sure Georgia remains the best place in America for our warfighters to live and thrive.

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