Officials celebrate groundbreaking of $146M aircraft hangar

It wasn’t that long ago, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission had the old McGuire Air Force Base squarely in its sights for closure. With over 40,000 employees and $7 billion in economic impact, that would have been a major blow to the economy of South Jersey. Since then the mission has been preservation of the base, renamed Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in 2009. Monday, the celebration was as much about that survival as it was about the new mission.

“It’s a day we’ve worked toward for years. As we break ground on the hangars of the new KC 46 tankers, we send a powerful message that the future of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is brighter than ever,” Sen. Bob Menendez said.

Two dozen of the KC 46 tankers will be stationed at the base beginning in 2020. Monday’s groundbreaking was for the $146 million construction of a new aircraft hangar and other infrastructure to house the new tankers, which will replace the KC 135s. The members of the Jersey delegation who spoke Monday said this was the kind of thing that can be accomplished when they work together in a bipartisan way.

“To my colleague who really truly understood what it was to be bipartisan when we sat together on those Armed Forces Subcommittee,” said Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross. “Understanding that there are many needs, but certainly here in New Jersey and for the East Coast, and Europe, the Middle East, this space is so vital. To Chris Smith who continues to be the legacy of what we understand New Jersey to be, his selfless service. We thank you.”

There were also tributes to the late President George Herbert Walker Bush, the last president to serve in the military.

“He hated war and he believed that the best way to mitigate its occurrence was through a strong military that deters, but if there is a war that you win it and you win it decisively, so we remember this great family man, this great leader, this great selfless patriot,” said Republican Rep. Chris Smith.

They didn’t quite nail the shovels in the dirt part, but the opportunity to show across the aisle cooperation provided a reprieve after a tough election season, which the politicians on hand seemed to appreciate.