When the Department of Defense dials 911, the phone rings in North Carolina.
Fort Bragg is the nation’s largest Army installation by population, making it the sixth-largest city in our state. It is home to the Airborne and Special Operations Forces and the only place with more Generals than Fort Bragg is the Pentagon. While some of us envision command happening from our nation’s capital, U.S. Army Special Operations Command is located right here in North Carolina.
Rob Patton of Fayetteville/Cumberland County Economic Development and Brigadier General (Ret.) Ferd Irizarry hosted members of the NC Chamber team at Fort Bragg in December. To say it was an incredible experience would be an understatement.
A Focus on Training
High-quality training was a theme of the tour. Often called the “center of the military universe,” Fort Bragg’s top priority is as the premier power projection platform, deploying to anywhere in the world in 72 to 96 hours.
Our team had the opportunity to try a few of the simulation tools the soldiers use to prepare for those operations. The Engagement Skills Trainer, a laser-based, multipurpose arms trainer displays targets, terrain, and weapon effects in a real time presentation on a screen 26 feet from the firer. The firing soldier (civilian in our case) experiences an approximation to the actual weapon’s sound, weight, and recoil. The system provides training for marksmanship, static unit collective training, shoot-don’t-shoot judgments, and provides extensive after-action review support.
The Aviation Flight Simulator provided us with the chance to “fly” a few of the helicopters and see firsthand how many different variables these soldiers are navigating at once.
Innovation is Key
Last fall, the Airborne Innovation Lab opened its doors to offer members of the 82nd Airborne Division resources to solve problems at their level and build a culture of innovation across the division. A division meant to deploy in as few as 18 hours, the Paratroopers are often faced with unique challenges.
The Airborne Innovation Lab offers robotics equipment, 3D printing, a woodshop, textile station, and computer lab, along with courses for those who need training on how to operate the technology.
When our team asked the soldier to tell us about the most interesting innovation she had seen so far, she described 3D printing a trachea. Soldiers were not finding training dummies realistic enough for practicing a tracheostomy in the field. Through trial and error, they were able to find the right material to create something far more life like for the soldiers to train.
Veterans Key to Talent Supply
As our state, and nation, face a tremendous talent shortage, transitioning solders provide a highly skilled pool of talent and it is incumbent on our business community to continue to find ways to keep these veterans in North Carolina.
As a group that is always interested in efficient use of the unemployment insurance program, the NC Chamber team found it interesting to learn that states provide unemployment insurance benefits to a solider immediately upon filing. The Army then reimburses the state from its annual training budget. With that in mind, the Army has spent the last 10+ years working to dramatically decrease the amount spent on unemployment benefits and instead invest that money in transition assistance programs that provide career opportunities for veterans.
With 1,462 miles of paved road lanes, 21 roads of railroad, 2,071 miles of electric and water, and 5,846 buildings, it takes significant investment to run Fort Bragg – to the tune of $22.7 million each day. That has a dramatic impact on our state’s economy, particularly as most of the work done at the installation is done by contractors, with a focus on using North Carolina businesses when possible.
As the installation works to have road repairs completed, they have entered into an agreement with the N.C Department of Transportation. Due to its scale, DOT can complete the work at a lower cost so the installation can spend just two-thirds of what they typically would on road maintenance. This also brings in additional revenue for DOT.
At any given moment, there is a Fort Bragg soldier in every time zone around the globe, causing soldiers to say that the sun never sets on Fort Bragg. We are tremendously appreciative of their service, and we are proud they call North Carolina home. Thank you to all who welcomed us to Fort Bragg, it was an honor and we look forward to continued collaboration.