March 25, 2015
Bishop LaValley’s address to the visiting Pentagon group at the March 20 Listening Session in support of Fort Drum at Jefferson Community College.
For six years, I was enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the advanced electronics field. Four of those years, I was stationed as a cryptologic technician at Corry Station in Pensacola. One of my additional duties there was to serve as the Command Briefer. Whenever VIP’s made official visits to the Base, one of their first stops was to join the Commanding Officer, and other top brass of the Command, to listen to me give an overview of the Base, to speak of what this Naval Technical Training Center had to offer the Navy and its contributions in meeting the overall military needs of our nation.
I’ll never forget a presentation I made to one of the VIP visitors, Admiral Bobby Inman. I began my presentation to him and his entourage, as I normally did, by giving a broad description of the Base and I began to spew out lots of statistics about its impact. He stopped me in mid-sentence, and asked me to talk about myself, not the Base. He was interested in the Base’s impact on me--the person. Don’t think this sailor’s ears didn’t turn red as I squirmed and stuttered, responding with no script.
Tonight, I’d like to do likewise for just a moment, hopefully not to squirm and stutter, but to look at the personal dimension of Fort Drum. Certainly, more knowledgeable people than me can share with you statistics, giving you specifics of what a full strength Fort Drum has to offer the Army and how it contributes crucially to meeting the military needs of our nation today and tomorrow. Others can provide you with the numbers that tell of the huge multi-faceted impact that Fort Drum has on this area. I’m sure what you will hear is not unlike, in many respects, the impact on other communities where other military bases call home. But, I would argue that there is something distinctly different about the Fort Drum community. I know that you are concerned about persons and the common good, as Admiral Inman’s comments reflected such interest to me so many years ago. Permit me to explain.
It was back in 1995 that our North Country was rocked by the news that Plattsburgh Air Force Base was closing. The news was devastating on so many fronts. Not only have many of the women and men of our beloved North Country gladly and proudly sacrificed for our nation through enlistment in the military services, but this area where I grew up has also sacrificed economically and culturally with the closing of the Air Force Base. The North Country should not have to suffer that devastating blow and its widespread ripple fallout again.
It’s no secret, often, we feel that we don’t have the population, the votes that would make a significant impact on policy decisions that affect us. Fundamentally, an important role of the Government is to promote and secure the common good. Not only is our nation’s common good protected when its borders are secured and those who would wreak terror and violence on peoples are silenced, the common good is also promoted and protected when a nation’s people are secure economically and its children are enabled to grow up in their hometowns with the ability to learn about and experience the richness that other cultures offer, such as the rich diversity that the Fort Drum military community brings here. The common good of the North Country, in many ways a forgotten place on the national map, is promoted, enhanced and protected with the presence of a full-strength Fort Drum.
In my pastoral visits, I see first-hand, how our soldiers and their families bring such a wealth of gifts to our schools and area communities: new faces and new families challenge our youngsters, and our not-so-young-sters, to grow intellectually and culturally. Our schools warmly embrace and have much to learn from our military families. Our soldiers and their loved ones benefit as well, for example through our adopt-a-platoon program, by our prayerful support for them during deployments and with our parishioners’ genuine care and support for families while their loved ones are away serving us, so often, in harm’s way. In fact, not long ago, our diocesan newspaper, the North Country Catholic won a national press award on a special feature story that illustrated beautifully the close relationship of the families of Ft. Drum and the area communities.
Surely, every affected area that seeks to preserve its military presence lobbies for its continued existence and growth. Emotions, understandably are heightened. But hasn’t our North Country already sacrificed its fair share? In promoting and protecting the common good, our leaders should pay heed to the tremendous gift that a Fort Drum, running on all cylinders, is to this portion of the North Country and understand its vital contributions that build up not only the local economies, but enhance so much the quality of life of this precious portion of rural America which we know and love.
I’m so proud to call the North Country “home.” I urge you to consider the common good, in its broadest understanding. Keep our Fort Drum strong and complete, continuing its full and vital presence here in the Watertown area. Thank you. God Bless America!
Several Sisters of St. Joseph joined thousands of Fort Drum supporters at the March 20 rally and listening session in support of the military base. Sister Annunciata Collins, above left, principal at Augustinian Academy, Carthage, says that over 50% of her students are from the families of Fort Drum. She and her faculty have reached out to make the school the "home for Fort Drum families."