The DOD is prioritizing a border wall over schools, childcare facilities. Military families deserve better than this.
By PETULA DVORAK | The Washington Post | Published: September 5, 2019
America doesn't care about kids. The evidence is all around us.
Here we go again — our nation's leaders are sticking it to kids.
And in this case, it's the kids of all those military men and women everyone likes to salute and praise and honor. When it's convenient.
While they go to work defending our country, thousands of parents in the military trust the welfare of their kids to child-care centers on base. It's one of the things that the military usually does really well.
But here in the Washington area, on the very base that President Donald Trump uses nearly every time he flies out to one of his golf courses (229 golf games so far during his presidency), the Joint Base Andrews Children's Development Center is in danger.
Parents complained when the playground was inaccessible for months and kids had no space to frolic and that the bathrooms look sketchy with huge holes in the tiles. The center's Facebook feed chronicles power outages, air conditioning troubles, phones and computers being dead and damage done by a car that hit the building.
So finally, Congress approved $13 million in the 2019 budget to give this important base the kind of child-care facility it deserves.
But nevermind. The Trump administration just killed this project, as well as a handful of others at schools and family support facilities on military bases.
Wait until you hear why.
In a frantic cash grab, the folks in power released a list of Department of Defense projects they are raiding to fund the border wall that the majority of Americans said they don't want. All in time for the 2020 election.
The projects they are axing include a toxic waste warehouse and a fire and crash rescue station — some crucial-sounding operations. So are the projects for military kids - the Andrews day care as well as a middle school in Fort Campbell, Ky., and an elementary school in Fort Bragg, N.C.
Trump's move represents a betrayal of military families, many of whom supported him in the 2016 election. The day cares are especially crucial for parents.
I'll always remember how Air Force Master Sgt. Tracy DeMarco told me, nearly a decade ago, how she watched her daughter take some of her first steps via Skype while she was deployed. "I jumped up and nearly hugged the screen," DeMarco said.
I caught up with her when she was back on American soil, picking up that child from the day care at Andrews, which was convenient to her job at the base. But all facilities need investment. And this one was finally about to get some help.
The families at Andrews had been waiting for years for a major renovation and expansion. An environmental impact report on the project in 2013 lists the problems with the primary child care building, which was built in 1943. Multiple rooms couldn't be used because of mold, and the facility had old heating and air conditioning systems. At the time, there were 130 children on the waiting list who couldn't be accommodated, forcing them to use much more expensive day care off base.
"Most bases have a long list of requirements that need repair," said Brian McKeon, a former Pentagon official who is now Senior Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
So if a project even made the list to go before Congress and get approval, it "means very likely they're in bad shape," McKeon said.
And delaying a project already in dire need will be even more difficult to repair later on, he said.
It's not only dangerous, but does very little to make good on all those yellow ribbons folks like to wear supporting troops, said Maryland's Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D), a veteran.
"Earlier today I was notified that important construction projects in Maryland — including at Joint Base Andrews — will be canceled in order to build President Trump's wall," he wrote on Facebook Wednesday. "This will hurt morale, degrade readiness and make America less safe. President Trump should not build his ineffective, xenophobic vanity project on the backs of our service members and military families."
Let's also consider the millions of dollars in contracts that were once headed to local construction companies and engineering firms.
Oh wait, some of the contractors in Maryland will still have work.
The two new presidential airplanes — billion-dollar projects — are on their way to Andrews. And the new planes are soooo big that a whole new hangar has to be built for them.
Don't worry, they're not touching that $315 million project to build the wall or to give military families better child care facilities. The kids will have to just wait.