Defense bill keeps funding for 3 North Carolina military bases
(Tribune News Service) — Three of North Carolina’s military bases can continue making upgrades and improvements because of funding provided by the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Members of Congress have spent months working on the bill that provides a 2.7% raise for service members, allows up to two weeks off for bereavement of a spouse or child, provides parental leave up to 12 weeks and reexamines how the military handles cases of sexual assault and harassment.
The U.S. House passed the original version of the bill in September but it stalled out once it reached the Senate. Lawmakers worked to garner enough support to send it to the president for his approval, but couldn’t get that version of the bill through the Senate.
Last week, they reached a compromise and introduced a new version that quickly passed through the House. The Senate then passed the bill Wednesday, sending it to President Joe Biden who is expected to sign it.
The new bill kept the funding for North Carolina’s bases, which Sen. Thom Tillis, a member of the Senate Armed Services committee, called “a big win for North Carolina’s servicemembers and our military families” in a news release Wednesday.
Money for Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point
The funding benefits three military bases in North Carolina: Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Fort Bragg.
“I was proud to lead multiple successful bipartisan efforts, including providing a pay raise for our servicemembers and expanded options to improve the lives of military families,” Tillis said in the release. “Since being elected, one of my top priorities has been ensuring Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, New River, and Seymour Johnson have the resources they need as they continue to play an important role in protecting the nation.”
Nearly all of North Carolina’s congressional delegation voted in favor of the bill, including Republicans Tillis and Sen. Richard Burr.
“As Fort Bragg’s Congressman, supporting our troops, their families, and veterans is a top priority,” Rep. Richard Hudson said in a news release. “This defense bill provides needed investments for Fort Bragg and military families, while excluding Democrat-led provisions like red flag laws which threatened the Second Amendment. I will continue working to support our troops, their families, and our rights.”
The bill awards Camp Lejeune $42.4 million to construct the II Marine Expeditionary Force Operations Center.
Camp Lejeune broke ground in June on the 180,000-square-foot operations building that is expected to be completed in 2024. Currently, the operations building is housed in a converted military hospital built in 1942.
A news release about the groundbreaking ceremony said the building is essential to war fighting, planning and coordinating forward deployed units.
The bill also awards $120.1 million to MCAS Cherry Point with $57.9 million funding an aircraft maintenance hangar and $30 million going to the modernization of flight line utilities for the F-35 fighter jet that includes updating the fire protection lines, communication lines and fuel distribution, among other things.
It also includes $10 million for an F-35 sustainment center and $18.7 million for an air traffic control tower and airfield operations.
Fort Bragg would receive $27.2 million with $7.7 million going to an emergency water system and $19.5 million allocated for a 10-megawatt microgrid using existing and new generators.
“This is not a perfect bill but overall it is a win for our troops, military families and veterans,” said Hudson, a Concord Republican.
Opposition over vaccines
Despite the benefits to North Carolina’s military bases, one member of North Carolina’s congressional delegation opposed the bill’s passage: U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop.
Bishop took issue with the bill for not doing away with the military’s requirement for its members to get COVID-19 vaccines. He has now voted in opposition to both versions of the bill.
The Charlotte Republican said in a news release that he appreciated Republican negotiators who removed the red flag laws from the bill, which he said would have allowed the secretary of defense the power to label any service member an “extremist.”
Red flag laws allow police and family members the ability to petition the courts to have guns taken from anyone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
“I am grateful Republicans were able to remove such radical agenda items,” Bishop said. “However, I could not in good conscience vote to allow Biden’s vaccine mandate against our troops to remain in place, even as federal courts continue to strike down these unconstitutional mandates across the board. America’s service members deserve better treatment than Democrats are willing to give.”
©2021 McClatchy Washington Bureau.
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