State Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker vowed support for Cherry Point and Fleet Readiness Center East after a tour of the base last week.
"I had never been on the base," Decker said. "It was terrific to have the chance to visit both the base and the Fleet Readiness Center and understand more about what goes on there. It’s such an important part of North Carolina’s economy, military in general but Cherry Point specifically.
"Fleet Readiness Center is one of the largest employers in Eastern North Carolina, so we’re very thankful for that. I enjoyed the chance to learn more and gain a better understanding of what the possibilities are to help commerce in North Carolina grow."
Decker said she was fascinated with the level of expertise of FRC East workers.
"I had really just not comprehended the magnitude of that and the complexity of it," she said. "They are dealing with a number of different types of aircraft and have developed some specialties there that are important in really growing the base and the Fleet Readiness Center, so I was impressed by the people and impressed by the complexity of that operation and all that’s going on. It was a great education for me."
At one point, Decker was able to view where the first F-35B Joint Strike Fighters will be maintained and modified in July.
"I asked the guys in the back if I needed to put a blessing on it or anything," Decker said.
"How exciting is that? I also recognize that that kind of access will soon be changing, but I was really appreciative of having the chance to understand that mission and the opportunity that’s there for the F-35. I can’t wait until they’re on the property."
Decker said she wasn’t aware of any trips Gov. Pat McCrory would be making to Cherry Point in the near future, but she did say that she has expressed to him the idea of taking a tour.
"He’s very interested in doing that and I’m confident that we’ll get that scheduled soon," Decker said.
She said that the military is high on the administration’s priority list.
"We are identifying the most important growth sectors for the state, and one of those is aviation and defense support and aeronautics, and that’s why this is such a sweet spot at Havelock and this multi-county area," she said.
She said the state administration thinks the proposed Base Realignment and Closure Commission is a concern but believes work is being done to minimize the threat.
"I think the leadership at the base is being very forward thinking as they try to position themselves to ensure that any concerns in the last BRAC are addressed," Decker said.
She said she was unaware that McCrory’s proposed state budget had no funds to support lobbying efforts to protect North Carolina military bases.
"To be quite frank, I don’t know the specifics of that, but the folks did share that with me and I agreed that I would look at that information," she said. "I do not know the specifics about allocations for these lobbying purposes."
But she said residents should not think that the military doesn’t have the support of the governor and the state.
"Our military installations in North Carolina are extremely important to us," she said. "We not only want these bases to remain strong and great places of employment, but we want to ensure that North Carolina is the kind of place where the men and women come out of the military that they want to stay, that this is the kind of place where they want to find their long-term opportunity," Decker said.
Decker said she was aware of concerns over the possible placement of wind turbines near military airfields.
"When we talk about the viability of our military bases, encroachment is an issue and we need to be sure that we have the physical setting that is necessary for the expansion of our bases and for fly zones that are free and not obscured in any way, so I know that this is an issue," she said.
Decker also met with Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders and said she plans a return trip to the area in about two months for follow-up meeting.