White Sands commander: Despite sequestration, WSMR revenues on the rise

LAS CRUCES -- Sequestration, furloughs and the government shutdown has made life difficult for many of those who work at White Sands Missile Range, Maj. Gen. Gwen Bingham said.

The commander at WSMR, though, had some good news to convey when she spoke to about 200 people gathered Thursday at the Las Cruces Convention Center for the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce's Military Update Luncheon.

"We have been blessed at White Sands," Bingham said. "White Sands is the only test center in the whole Army test evaluation command that posted an 8 percent growth in its revenues. (That) means folks are using White Sands Missile Range and they are using us more and more and more."

She said that is good for the entire community. For instance, the most recent Network Integration Evaluation Exercise WSMR participated in brought about 5,000 military and civilian personnel to the area. Next year, a NEI test is expected to draw as many as 7,000 people.

"We (also) host multi-national clients," Bingham said.

She pointed out that the Japanese Army was at WSMR for a couple of months, and personnel from Italy, Germany, Poland and France have also spent time at the range.

"That continues to pump revenues into this region," Bingham said.

She said that she and her staff are also looking toward the future.

"As we look outwardly, to 2020, 2025 and beyond, (we ask) what is it that we want to do as we posture ourselves strategically," Bingham said. "What we certainly want to do is be relevant and be value-added and go after job markets that will kind of hammer that stake in the ground for us."

Bingham admitted that 2013 saw a lot of hurdles for those in government employ and those who work with the government, what with sequestration and furloughs and the government shutdown, which alone impacted about 3,000 White Sands workers, the general said.

"We never want to see that happen again," Bingham said. "It was heart-wrenching. Those that are on my team have been scarred.

"You can imagine -- you tell a man or woman that you're going to take any amount of pay from them and, 'Oh, by the way, you're not going to get it back' -- what kind of emotional roller coaster that is for families," she said.

Bingham wanted to impart a message of resiliency so she had some of the lyrics to the 1997 song "Tubthumping" by British band Chumbawamba written on pieces of paper and placed on the tables at the convention center. She had different tables stand and sing parts of the refrain: "I get knocked down/but I get up again/you're never gonna keep me down."

Bingham said that strong support from the surrounding community is important for any military post, especially during times of installation closures and cutbacks. She pointed to outreach from the chamber of commerce as an important link.

Bill Allen, president and CEO of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, said that the Las Cruces area has a strong connection to WSMR.

"This community is more proactive than almost all," Allen said. "We want to make sure we do whatever we can to support the base, so that when tough decisions are made (WSMR is spared)."

After more than a year at WSMR, Bingham said her feelings are still fresh.

"It's still as exciting as it was a year ago," she said.

Bingham said she knows that Army life means movement, but she hopes to stay in southern New Mexico for a while.

"I'm sort of keeping my name on the down low because I don't want to leave," she said to chuckles from the crowd. "I don't want someone to say, 'Oh, we do have a new two-star general, we can move her to pick a spot.

"That day will inevitably come, but I don't want to rush that," she said.

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