By: Nate Delesline III

The Daily Progress

RUCKERSVILLE — Although a compromise might be in the works, Virginians should be prepared for and work to minimize the potential economic fallout that will accompany drastic cuts to federal defense spending, a member of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Cabinet said this week.

Unfortunately, Terrie Suit, Virginia’s secretary of veterans affairs and homeland security, said the Old Dominion is seen by some as a “Thanksgiving table” that’s loaded with valuable military installations.

Suit spoke Thursday at a luncheon hosted by the Central Virginia chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

Albemarle County is home to Rivanna Station, a sub-installation of Fort Belvoir that houses operations of the National Ground Intelligence Center, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. The base employs about 2,000 people, mostly civilians.

When changes mandated under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission came into effect, Suit said Virginia escaped relatively unscathed, but legislators and the leaders of communities with military facilities took notice.

“We learned through that experience — and our local communities learned through that experience — that it wasn’t a burden to have a military installation in your backyard; it was an economic bonus, a huge benefit to have a military installation in your backyard,” Suit told the group.

Asked later if Charlottesville-area residents should be concerned about the possible reductions, Suit said she’s assuming the worst but hoping for the best.

“I have to look at every single military operation in the commonwealth of Virginia as though it could be taken away from us,” she said. “That’s the frame of reference that I come from. Everything is subject to change. Therefore, we need to be doing all we can to protect all that we have.”

Suit, who also served as a member of the House of Delegates from the Hampton Roads region, was appointed to the newly created position by McDonnell in 2011.

Although the election is over, Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the issue of the so-called fiscal cliff and sequestration is sure to remain a hot topic on Capitol Hill.

“Given how the fiscal cliff could impact defense spending, it’s sure to be a particular point of emphasis during negotiations between the president and the GOP leadership in the Republican-controlled House,” Skelley said by email. “There are serious disagreements about the resources we allocated to defense so it’s difficult to say how exactly all this will play out.”

In a statement, Rep. Robert Hurt, R-5th, said he and his House colleagues intend to make sure President Barack Obama keeps his promise to prevent sequestration from happening.

“I remain optimistic that for the sake of the American people, those in Washington will come together to keep taxes low for all Americans and replace these devastating cuts with responsible spending reforms — as the House has proposed,” Hurt said in an email in response for comment for this story.

Former Gov. and Democratic Sen.-elect Timothy M. Kaine also struck a similar tone of bipartisan optimism.

“We won’t resolve this important issue by each party drawing the same ideological lines that got us into this mess,” Kaine said in an email. “Instead, both parties need to come together to find a compromise that accelerates our economic recovery and strengthens the fiscal stability of our country.”

Army Lt. Col. Robert Pettit, head of the military science department at James Madison University, was among those to attend the luncheon. He said Suit’s remarks and insight are applicable to him, as well as the approximately 165 cadets he leads in JMU’s ROTC program. Pettit has served nearly 22 years and is about a year away from retiring from the military.

“As I look to transition out of the military, there is hope that I’ll be able to secure employment in a military-friendly state and hopefully … I’ll have an opportunity at home.”

Pettit also said some cadets may find themselves in the same situation once they’ve completed their military service, as many are choosing to serve with Virginia-based guard and reserve units.

According to the Center for Security Policy and the Coalition for the Common Defense, conservative-leaning Washington-based think tanks, Charlottesville and Albemarle County could see a potential loss of $46.5 million in defense-related spending if all the cuts come to fruition. The figures are based on publicly available information from Department of Defense.

In the meantime, at the state level, Suit said they’ll continue to prepare, collaborate and communicate.

“When you have an operation that’s bringing people and expenditures and tax revenue to your community, you want to protect that operation,” Suit said. ‘It helps every single citizen in the Charlottesville region.”

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