One is assessing how well the community is supporting Robins Air Force Base compared to the other industrial locations in the Department of Defense. A second is educating the community on what’s happening on base. A third is underscoring why the partnership exists, what they are doing and providing a scorecard to supporters.
McMahon, a retired Air Force major general and until last June commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, is the first to occupy the new CEO position, assuming that role Sept. 1. His predecessors, retired Air Force Maj. Gens. Rick Goddard and Ron Smith, worked as advisors to the partnership’s chairman and board. Under the new alignment, McMahon will run day-to-day activities while the chairman and board will offer strategic oversight.
“Our reason for existence hasn’t changed,” he noted during an interview this week at the partnership’s Warner Robins office. “That’s clearly defined in the bylaws. What has changed is ‘how’ we do it.”
The change will free the chairman from the weeds of daily operations, he explained. “That will free up folks for more of a strategic view,” he added.
The partnership was born in the 1990s to ready the community for looming Base Realignment and Closure rounds. It has continued and strengthened since that time, incorporating business, civic and political leaders from throughout Middle Georgia who are focused on supporting Robins and its assigned units.
McMahon understands that the partnership’s – and the Middle Georgia community’s – greatest challenges may lie ahead. Robins, the single largest employer in the state and the source of more than $4 billion in annual economic impact, has lost 975 jobs this year due to budget cuts and workload realignments.
More – perhaps much more – could come in the future. President Obama has already ordered a $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next ten years. And sequestration, if not altered or changed by Congress, could trim another $500 billion.
Sequestration came into play with congressional passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011. That legislation charged Congress with identifying $1.2 trillion in federal budget reductions or that amount would be pulled from federal programs, including $500 billion from national security over the next decade. So far, Congress has been unable to identify the needed reductions.
“Because of the reductions in the defense budget (by the Obama administration), there will be some impact on the number of folks working at Robins,” he said. “What that number is I don’t know. It could be one percent or ten percent. But clearly there could be some additional reductions and that’s outside of sequestration. If we see sequestration, all bets are off.”
He said the Pentagon has no idea how it will absorb an additional $500 billion in cuts.
“It’s staggering,” the general conceded. “We’ve heard from all our senior defense leaders and from our leaders at the national level. The necessary national collaboration is not there … and it’s got to be there or the impacts will be catastrophic.”
The former local commander believes Robins’ survival will hinge on some very basic factors.
“The question is can we create an environment that makes it disadvantageous for the department to move workload from Robins?” he noted. “Are we performing at such a level inside the fence that we should be a gainer of workload rather than a loser? And is the community providing the best support of any location in the department?”
He believes speculating on what might happen, worrying about outcomes or becoming complacent are counterproductive.
“The most prudent thing to do is keep our heads down and continue peddling as hard as we can,” McMahon stressed. “If we do that, then everything takes care of itself. But if anyone thinks we are immune from closure or workload reductions, then that’s part of the message I have to communicate.”
Assessing community support will be fundamental to developing a game plan, he pointed out.
“We have to do an objective analysis to see how Middle Georgia is doing in comparison to the other 14 or 15 industrial locations across the Department of Defense,” he said. “The key areas are education, crime, encroachment, transportation, medical support and cost of living. We need to understand where we sit in those areas. If we’re doing exceptionally well, we need to continue. But if there are areas where we’re not doing very well, we need to understand what we need to improve.”
McMahon wants to use the partnership as a catalyst for enhancing cooperation throughout the region.
“The key is understanding that what’s good for Robins is also good for economic development across Middle Georgia,” he said. “It’s forming collaborations among chambers, economic developers and elected officials. It’s creating opportunities and holding folks accountable. It’s the same thing that allowed the base to be successful, so we should be able to do it in the community.”
He cited encroachment as an example that will have long-term benefits for the base and the community. Leaders from counties surrounding the base along with state officials identified funding to purchase properties in crash and noise prone areas north of the installation. Once that project is completed, it will remove impediments to the base’s current missions and future mission growth.
“It was collaboration between city, county and state governments,” he said. “Encroachment was clearly articulated as an issue and different communities and counties worked together for a common goal. What if we talked about education in the same terms as encroachment? What could we do together to enhance education or, for example, transportation?”
He believes Robins has some strong anchors in comparison to other installations. He cited continued work on C-17s and C-130s, systems that will be in the Air Force inventory for many years. The base’s solid reputation for software development and enhancement. The local concentration of command, control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance elements. Electronic warfare. The combat communications wing on base. Joint STARS. One of five distribution centers in Defense Logistics Agency. Air Force Reserve Command headquarters. The Marine reserve unit.
“There is a litany of units that anchor the base,” he said. “But we can never let our guard down. Every mission could be moved somewhere else. So the base needs to continue performing in each of those areas and the community needs to continue supporting them.”
He believes another BRAC is coming, if not in 2015 then probably by 2017. Part of his job, as he sees it, will be to make sure officials understand not only what needs to be done but why.
“We have to find a balance between re-educating and re-energizing the community while not scaring them,” McMahon underscored. “As for BRAC, we have to begin preparing today. Not by saying the sky is falling but by dealing with the issues where we’re not doing as well as other locations.”
The former commander said he was optimistic despite the crush of promised and potential budget cuts.
“If the base continues to perform – and that is the foundation – and if the community continues to improve its support, then that will bode well for us in the future,” he emphasized. “But sitting back and hoping is not good. It’s a strategy, but not a very good one.”
Copyright 2012 The Warner Robins Patriot. All rights reserved.
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