Even in these hyper-partisan times, many still make an extra effort to look for common ground when the military is involved.
That’s especially true when it comes to military installations in New Jersey. Not only are they important to America’s defense, they are equally important to the local and state economy.
Which is why Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and a handful of congressmen from both parties came together Monday for a gala groundbreaking ceremony at Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst in central New Jersey.
The ceremonial tossing of dirt officially broke ground for the construction of hangars and other infrastructure to house 24 new mid-air refueling aircraft known as the KC-46A Pegasus. The planes are scheduled to be housed at the base beginning in 2021.
Some may see building hangars as simply routine business, but in this case, that’s not necessarily the case.
A number of speeches from both base personnel and elected officials hailed the occurrence as a “milestone” for both the nation and the base.
Menendez put it this way, “It’s a day we have worked toward for years. As we break ground … we send a powerful message that says the future of Joint Base McGruire-Dix Lakehurst is brighter than ever.” He predicted that the Pegasus tankers will enhance the base’s strategic value as the East Coast hub for Air Mobility Command’s refueling and air lift missions.
Menendez told about 300 mostly military personnel in attendance that he last visited the base on a hot day over the summer. That was during his reelection campaign against Republican Bob Hugin. Now with Menendez safe in the Senate for another six years, he can put the recent campaign acrimony behind him.
Another speaker was Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur, whose recent campaign didn’t go as well as the senator’s did. MacArthur lost a close race to Democrat Andy Kim in District 3.
Speaking about the base. MacArthur said, “It’s vital for national security. It’s also vital for this part of New Jersey.”
More than 52,000 people work, live or train at the base, according to Menendez.
There are periodic worries that the Joint Base, in addition to other installations such as Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County, could be closed in the future.
MacArthur and others credited former Republican Rep. James Saxton for working hard to keep the Joint Base open. Saxton, who served in Congress for 24 years, also was instrumental in merging Fort Dix, McGuire Air Force Base and Lakehurst Naval Air Station into the one base it is today. Saxton attended the ceremonies, but did not speak. Other elected officials who did speak were Democratic Congressman Donald Norcross (District 1) and Republican Congressman Chris Smith (District 4).
MacArthur referred to the recent election, telling the crowd, “This chapter of my life comes to a close. But it is the opening of a new chapter for this base.”
Soon after that, officials donned symbolic hard hats, picked up shovels and scooped out some dirt on what was a mild December morning.
One can never really get away from contemporary politics. As MacArthur walked away from the ceremony, he was asked if he has any plans to run for Congress again in 2020. He acknowledged many Republicans in the district want him to do precisely that, but said no decision along those lines needs to be made immediately.
“I’m not in a hurry to do anything right now,” MacArthur said.