New London's Treasure
By Bob Ross
January 22, 2012
One vote should not harm decades of cooperation between the city and the Coast Guard Academy
As New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and Coast Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz continue the discussions they began this past week, they should not view the academy's campus expansion and the protection and enhancement of Riverside Park as mutually exclusive alternatives. That kind of one-dimensional thinking would fall short of the resourceful and creative leadership the city and academy can provide.
As in any community, there are things to criticize in southeastern Connecticut, but the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, with its international prestige and reputation for institutional excellence, isn't one of them. As a century-long partner throughout the region, the academy enhances our quality of life.
Each year, cadets from every walk of life reach into our communities with about 18,000 hours of community service. A majority of those hours are given to New London. These cadets have positive impacts on our schools, churches, clubs and parks. They make our local communities better, even as they prepare for their larger mission to protect our nation.
In addition to more than 1,000 officer candidates, the academy, with over 600 staff members and senior enlisted leadership programs, brings people from every state in our nation to this region, generating an annual economic impact of over $160 million. That's good for our neighborhoods, businesses and our national reputation. Then, as the cadets embark on their diverse careers, they take their New London experience with them to just about every place on Earth.
The academy is a social, historic and economic anchor that helps define us. New London has a wonderful maritime heritage. And, our maritime history easily lends itself to this partnership with our Coast Guard. The Whaling City should celebrate its maritime history and bind itself to the academy's best future.
Recently, Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard, said he has "other options," meaning other locations for some of the academy's activities. New London has options too. Preventing our land-locked academy from expanding would be a disastrous option to exercise. Creative leadership can do more than one thing at a time. Helping the academy and protecting community interests are the common strategic outcomes everyone should want. The city can do both.
The Coast Guard, like most federal agencies, will be under tremendous budget constraints over the next several years. Building a new satellite campus and all of the necessary overhead required to sustain it, seems unrealistic. And delay in this case could result in a purely financial decision to move operations to other existing locations, less desired by the Coast Guard, but necessary to meet their future needs. That would be a significant opportunity lost for Connecticut and New London.
The Coast Guard Academy is a unique international landmark and is part of what's best in New London. It is of paramount importance that the city help the academy grow and cultivate its continued success here in New London.
Bob Ross is executive director Connecticut Office of Military Affairs and the former first selectman of Salem.