By Oliver Ramsey
“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
The brave men and women of the United States Army serve to defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They do not serve, as the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce and El Paso REDCo would like to have you believe, as engines of economic development. Whatever effects, if any, of economic productivity created are secondary.
Fort Bliss is one of the largest Army’s largest military installations. Many El Pasoans breathed a sigh of relief that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission did not move to close the base. Then El Pasoans were then just down right giddy when BRAC moved to increase the number of troops at the fort. But was this relief and excitement a result of leaders in the region genuinely interested in protecting the Constitution or because they feared without Fort Bliss there is just nothing else in El Paso to create job growth?
In some ways, Fort Bliss has handicapped the vision and thought process of leaders in the region. Fort Bliss’ expansion has just bought more time or postponed the inevitable. El Paso has not yet generated a strong enough economic sector that is relatively independent of government procurement. Even one of El Paso’s most political active and wealthiest citizens did not make his wealth in the marketplace. He made it in defense procurement.
The ugly truth though is that military installations do not create wealth. If that were the case, San Antonio, not Houston or Dallas/Fort Worth, would have been Texas’ leading economic metro. El Paso leaders need to assume an El Paso without Fort Bliss. What would it look like? What could happen?
For starters, the City of El Paso would nearly double in size. Sure, there would probably be the need for some soil remediation efforts, but this vast area could be become a high-tech manufacturing and logistical hub. El Paso is halfway between some of the busiest ports in the world: the Port of Houston and Port of Los Angeles. With relatively quick access to Asian and European markets as well as lower labor costs El Paso could once again reposition itself as a manufacturing hub. An expanded or new airport could compete with other cities for airline hub activity. Last I checked El Paso does not have as many snow days as Salt Lake City.
These are just a couple things that could happen if Fort Bliss were to close. But this could easily happen if Fort Bliss were to merely reduce its footprint in Texas to the New Mexico border. With that El Paso would be able to have its cake and eat it too.
So El Paso, do not fear the day of a smaller or non-existent Fort Bliss. You can still win. If you do not believe me, look no further than the Rio Grande Valley, which is a region made of many municipalities located a 150 miles away from the nearest Interstate highway and lacks a military installation.