WASHINGTON – Officials from three Southern Maryland military bases toted bomb-detecting robots and chemical-sniffing devices to Capitol Hill, where they mingled with lawmakers and congressional staffers Friday in a show-and-tell of their work.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said he hosted the event so the bases — the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, St. Inigoes Webster Field and the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head — could show Congress the “different things that we do that are critically important” to national security.
No one mentioned the upcoming report of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which will recommend another round of base closures this year. When asked, officials said they just wanted to show off their wares, as they regularly do.
“We’re here to showcase why our mission is important,” said Tara Landis, a spokeswoman for Indian Head. But she added that the base’s intellectual capabilities are of a quality that “I don’t think you could replicate anywhere else in the United States.”
As proof, the bases set up elaborate displays of their work.
One Indian Head table had an array of mock improvised explosive devices — the crude bombs used against coalition forces in Iraq — next to the hulking robots designed to counter them.
On a table in the middle of the room lay a set of enormous protective suits for entering radioactive areas after a dirty bomb explosion. A group of Marines from Indian Head stood by, ready to explain how the suits could be used and when.
In one corner, three stacked television screens rolled tape of a flight simulation facility at the Patuxent River base. Officials from that base explained that the simulator replicates a battle environment for both the airplane and the pilot, without sending either one up in the air.
Friday’s “summit” was one in a series of similar events that Hoyer and other members of the Maryland delegation have attended this year to discuss the work of bases in the state and their importance to the communities around them.
For example, officials at Andrews Air Force Base sang their facility’s praises over lunch last month with Hoyer and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. Andrews is home to Air Force One, among other duties.
The next major step in the 2005 BRAC round comes May 16, when the defense secretary recommends a list of bases to be closed or restructured. That list goes to the BRAC commission, which sends it on to the president and then Congress for final approval.
With or without BRAC, Hoyer said it was important bring the show to Capitol Hill.
“The high number and wide variety of projects at Southern Maryland’s bases . . . demonstrate the technical expertise harnessed,” Hoyer said in a prepared statement. “It is only appropriate that members of Congress have an opportunity to observe how wisely these dollars are being spent.”
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