EOMAC Serves As Regional Hub For Protecting, Growing Military Assets

Jun 12, 2017
After forming just two years ago, the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission (EOMAC) can already point to several major wins as it bolsters its role as the regional hub to protect and grow military assets in Eastern Ohio.

After forming just two years ago, the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission (EOMAC) can already point to several major wins as it bolsters its role as the regional hub to protect and grow military assets in Eastern Ohio.

EOMAC was created in May 2015 as a division of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber to promote the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 910th Airlift Wing at the Youngstown Air Force Reserve Base, Camp Ravenna in Portage County and other area military installations.

The commission’s leadership team includes Executive Director Vito Abruzzino, a former U.S. Army Judge Advocate and local lawyer, Atty. John Rossi, president of the Regional Chamber Foundation, and Chamber President/CEO Tom Humphries.

The trio said the group’s effectiveness is the result of working hard to be recognized as a regional leader in promoting military assets while engaging state and federal officials on financial assistance and legislation.

“The Regional Chamber, air base and other local stakeholders jumped at the chance to build a division here that could expand into a lake-to-river-type entity to promote and grow operations, impact, engagement and connectivity with the air base and Camp Ravenna,” Rossi said.

Abruzzino noted that the commission was created at a critical time, as the Air Force had reduced the number of planes and manpower at the base, and the annual economic value from base operations had dwindled to less than $100 million.

Why the loss of manpower and missions? While the Air Force doesn’t have power to close bases without Congressional approval, it can move assets when it sees fit to support current Air Force priorities, and that has negatively affected the 910th Airlift Wing, Abruzzino said.

“Bottom line, if you don’t get out there as a community and as a federal delegation and do things to preserve and monitor these missions, the Air Force may unilaterally downsize. The squeaky wheel is going to get the grease,” Abruzzino said.

Since the commission was created, it has concentrated on:
  • Bringing key stakeholders together to be that “squeaky wheel” to promote local military assets both statewide and nationally.
  • And, assuring a continuity of message in promoting the air base and Camp Ravenna throughout inevitable changes in political and military leadership.

Abruzzino said that two-pronged effort has yielded positive results:

  • 910th Airlift Wing C-130 Modernization: Working with staff members from the Valley’s congressional delegation, language was inserted at the last minute in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Air Force to lay out detailed plans to upgrade the aging C-130 fleet at the air base.Already, a preliminary report issued by the Air Force indicates that the fleet will be retrofitted in 2018-2019 at a cost of about $25 million per aircraft.
  • Ravenna Defense Shield Campaign: After Camp Ravenna was named one of three finalist sites for the more than $4 billion East Coast Ballistic Missile Defense Shield, the commission organized an effort that obtained more than 700 letters of support from Valley companies and groups for the project and sent them to the Department of Defense. The commission then prevailed on Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s office to understand the magnitude of the shield project and advocacy efforts being done by other states. “Without EOMAC monitoring the selection process, bringing the message to the governor and gaining their attention, we wouldn’t have likely seen any action,” Abruzzino said. DOD is expected to make a decision by the end of the year.
  • Airport Joint Land Use Study: While attending a meeting of the Association of Defense Communities, EOMAC learned that federal land use study funds of $250,000 to $500,000 were available that could benefit the future of the air base. The commission brought that message back to then-base commander Col. James Dignan and his staff, who applied for the funding with the assistance of their partner,  the Trumbull County Commissioners’ Office. The application received preliminary approval this year, pending local sponsorship agreements with Trumbull County. Announcement of the grant nomination took place June 8. The study will center on the property surrounding the air base and also create a geographic information systems (GIS) database for potentially the entire tri-county area that would benefit economic development.
Rossi said a key to these successes has been forming stakeholder groups that meet regularly to work on ways to promote the area’s military assets.

Those groups are:

  • Military Value Group: Collaborates with members of the area’s U.S. Congressional delegation to map strategy on community and Air Force advancement. Commission leaders also regularly attend Association of Defense Communities meetings. That group brings together defense communities from around the U.S. to enhance knowledge, information sharing and best practices.
  • State Military Support Group: Works with state legislators and state government personnel to discuss state support for Ohio’s military installations. Rossi said the commission also is heavily involved in the Ohio Defense Forum, a group of Ohio communities including Dayton, Lima, Columbus, Mansfield and Toledo that promotes state military assets.
  • Vendor and Supply Chain Working Group: Works with local businesses to be involved in the bidding process to sell supplies and equipment to the air base.
  • Community Support Group (Also known as P4): Provides more than 100 community groups and schools with opportunities to interact with the air base and promote and support local military assets.

In addition, Rossi said that the Greater Cleveland Partnership and the Portage Development Board, both economic development entities, have joined the EOMAC network. Rossi noted that EOMAC is working with them on issues related to the air base, Camp Ravenna and the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

“Specific issues include educating and prioritizing the potential missile defense shield at Camp Ravenna and promoting the air base and NASA Glenn as unique opportunity sites within the state’s newly formed military facility and military jobs commissions,” Rossi said.

“We want to use these collaborations to continue to tie into research and development, future operation, footprint and mission expansion and regional economic growth,” he added.

With momentum on their side and a potential 2021 Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) looming, EOMAC leaders have an ambitious checklist of goals for the near future, according to Abruzzino.

They are:

  • Obtaining funds for a new main gate for the safety of the air base. The current gate and fencing are too close to base operations and are susceptible to terrorist attacks.
  • Attracting more missions for the air base that would increase the number of C-130s from eight to 12.
  • Succeeding in Camp Ravenna’s being named the preferred site for the multi-billion-dollar defense shield.
  • Continuing robust involvement with the Association of Defense Communities and the Ohio Defense Forum.
  • Attracting enough funding to make EOMAC a full-time military affairs commission, like other successful councils around the country (Abruzzino is a part-time executive director).

In addition, Abruzzino and Rossi said EOMAC is suggesting that federal agencies be officially tied to the air base’s aerial spray mission. 

“Our contribution to national defense, health and safety can be enhanced through agency relationships,” Abruzzino said. “Special missions that are linked with federal agencies receive priority for funding and aircraft and create efficiencies. We don’t have that linkage, but if we can accomplish that, the base would be a priority for improvement.”