House Armed Services chairman backs Ft. Drum missile base

FORT DRUM – The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee encouraged the development of a third missile site to protect America during a visit to Fort Drum with Rep. Elise Stefanik on Wednesday.

“All of us can see what’s happening in the world,” said Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-13th District, Texas. “Whatever you think about the Iran nuclear deal, what’s clear is Iran continues to develop longer-range missiles. To deal with those missiles, and other sorts of threats, the West Coast sites would be severely taxed, or could not handle the job.”

Fort Drum is one of three potential sites for such a placement.

He said he expected the next administration will be convinced of the site’s necessity. He said critiques from officials such as Navy Vice Adm. James D. Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, were a reflection of the Obama administration’s current opposition to such an expansion.

A public comment period for the site ended recently, with Stefanik, R-Willsboro, stating the site received a large amount of North Country support. She anticipated the Missile Defense Agency will designate a preferred site for a placement by the end of the year.

Other sites competing with Fort Drum are Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center in Ohio and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan.

Thornberry made his first tour of the post on Wednesday, after being invited “rather persistently” by Stefanik.

He also spoke about the upcoming defense bill, stating that lawmakers “are further along at this point in the process than we’ve been in years.”

Among the challenges in determining a funding level for the new defense bill are changes to planned troop levels in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, along with new training operations in Europe.

“Some additional funds are going to be absolutely necessary, and I think the administration even agrees with that,” Thornberry said.

The post recently received a group of 10 Apache helicopters from the National Guard. A staffer for Stefanik said that 23 of the planned 24 helicopters have made it to Fort Drum.

“It’s essential to the mission of the 10th Mountain Division, it’s essential to Army aviation readiness, and it’s essential to our national security,” Stefanik said.

The transfer of the helicopters had raised questions about the military capabilities of active and Guard forces, Thornberry said.

“Working with others, our colleagues, we came to a pretty good place where it makes sense for all of these different components,” he said.

Thornberry said Fort Drum was a “very impressive” post near the top of the list of best Army installations, and commended the 10th Mountain Division’s soldiers for their work in the last decade.

He also noted the post’s “unique relationship” with the community.

“It’s important for me and for our colleagues to look at what is really working well in communities like this, and see if it can be replicated, or at least learned from, in other places,” Thornberry said.

Neither Thornberry nor Stefanik spoke about election issues during their visit. Stefanik’s office told media beforehand that members of Congress could not make election-related statements on post.

Thornberry has not publicly endorsed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, while Stefanik said she would support Trump during a radio interview in July. Without stating Trump’s name, Thornberry expressed dismay about the recent attacks against the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, stating there is “never enough honor” that can be shown to families of fallen service members.