Gov. Ned Lamont reappointed Bob Ross to serve as executive director of the state’s Office of Military Affairs, continuing his role as an advocate for Connecticut’s military personnel and their families, and as a liaison on defense issues.
“He is highly regarded by industry officials, defense workers, state and local government leaders, and military families. I look forward to collaborating with him on projects to support the growth of jobs in this critical sector, especially in the southeastern region of our state,” Lamont said in a statement.
Ross, a former Navy surface warfare officer, was first appointed to the position in 2009 by then-Gov. Jodi Rell. He was reappointed by Malloy.
The Office of Military Affairs was established in 2007 to coordinate a statewide response to any future proposals to close the Naval Submarine Base. The base narrowly escaped closure in 2005 during a process by the Pentagon known as base realignment and closure, or BRAC.
The Pentagon repeatedly has asked for a new BRAC round but there hasn’t been an appetite for it in Congress. Ross, the primary liaison to the Connecticut congressional delegation on military and defense matters, said federal lawmakers still have a bad taste in their mouths from the 2005 BRAC round, given it cost much more than expected.
Experts say, if there is another round, it likely wouldn’t happen until 2021, when it would be more politically expedient because it’s the year after the next presidential election.
Ross said he’s not opposed to another BRAC round because the sub base is “properly prepared” to withstand such an evaluation. He said the Pentagon’s strategy likely will be different than in the past. The focus will be more on properly aligning military forces than on saving money.
“Given what’s going on in the world right now with Russia and China really building up their undersea forces, it would defy logic for the U.S. to close any submarine base anywhere,” he said.
The secretaries of the Navy, Air Force and Army have told Congress that the next time there’s a BRAC, they want the quality of public schools around military installations and state licensure reciprocity, or the ease with which military spouses can obtain licenses to work in the state, to be included as part of evaluation criteria. These are quality-of-life issues that can impact whether someone stays in the military, Ross said.
Ross said he’s not worried about the quality of the public schools in southeastern Connecticut. Local Navy and Coast Guard officials, school superintendents and Ross meet monthly to discuss issues affecting military children.
But the licensure issue is “complicated,” he said. Connecticut is one of more than 20 states to adopt a rule that allows spouses of active-duty service members to apply for a temporary law license valid for up to three years without having to take the bar exam. It took two years to craft the language and garner support to make it happen in Connecticut.
Part of the reason Ross is so confident the base could withstand another BRAC round is the various projects, ongoing and completed, to “increase the military value” of the base.
The state now has funded 10 projects through the $40 million set aside by the Connecticut General Assembly in 2007 for infrastructure improvements on the base.
One of the more recent projects, the construction of an electric microgrid, which will allow the base to generate its own electricity to maintain key operations in the event of a disruption or power outage, should be complete and operational by October, Ross said. The state contributed $6 million toward the project.
Also expected to be completed this year is the demolition of the marina adjacent to the condominiums on Scotch Cap Road in Waterford. The marina, which has never been active, is across from the piers where submarines dock at the base. Future attack submarines will be longer than the current boats due to an 85-foot section being added to improve payload capacity. Those submarines will need a wider turning basin, hence the need to demolish the marina, which has long been a concern for the Navy for security reasons.
The state gave Waterford $525,000 to cover the costs of the project and the back taxes that were owed on the property by the previous owners. The town of Waterford now owns the land. First Selectman Dan Steward said the town soon will be putting out a request for proposal for the work, and he hopes the demolition will be complete by this summer.