TEXAS SENATE ON VETERAN AFFAIRS TRAVELS TO HOUSTON AREA
The Texas Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs traveled to Webster, near Houston, today, to hear testimony on the future of the Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, and its role in the security of the Houston area. The committee also addressed other charges issued by the Lieutenant Governor at the end of the last legislative session.
The first witness, Eric Potts, of the Houston Airport System, described Ellington Field's place in the Houston Air Traffic System and how its future expansion would affect the city air traffic plans. Navy Commander Adam Binford followed, describing the various duties of the reserve unit stationed at Ellington, such as Physical Health Assessments, Funeral Duties and community relations, as well as normal reserve functions. Houston Council Member Addie Weisman testified that Ellington Field was a "tremendous asset" in the protection of the Houston area from terrorist attack.
Chairman Van de Putte told the meeting that during the last session, the Texas Legislature worked to increase the quality of life for military families, in an effort to keep military bases open in the state. Van de Putte said that, as an example of this commitment, the Legislature was able during the last session to fully fund Pre-K and Kindergarten education for military children.
Marine Lt. Col. Dan Reber of the Houston area Joint Reserve Center told the committee that his reserve unit has taken part in American military operations since World War II and has members currently serving in Iraq.
Senator Mike Jackson welcomed the committee to the Houston area, saying that while there was still much work to do on the future of Ellington Field, it "baffles me" that the base realignment and closure process could mean the facility might be left without a fighter wing.
Eugene Tulich of the Coast Guard and Governor's Military Preparedness Commission described the Coast Guard's presence in the area, saying that the air station was a "hub for Coast Guard units", and that its presence was vital for emergency rescue work as well as its military responsibilities.
Brian Crowder, of the Veterans Administration National Disaster Medical System, described the assistance that their facilities at Ellington gave to civilian medical authorities during hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, as well as other medical assistance that comes from the facility. Colonel Jay Hildebrand of the 75th Training and Support Division briefed the committee on the status of their forces at Ellington Field and the future of their division. The 75th is currently constructing a new facility at Ellington, after a land swap with M.D. Anderson Hospital.
The committee then entered into a joint meeting with the Subcommittee on Base Realignment and Closure. Subcommittee Chairman Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso congratulated the Houston residents who had worked to keep Ellington open during the federal base closure process. During the joint hearing, Major General Charles Rodriguez of the Texas National Guard testified as to the importance of the air wing at Ellington, saying that among other duties, it had flown air cover for the President as he traveled on Air Force One and continues to protect the Houston area against terrorist attack from the air, a mission that he said might not be accomplished as well by out-of-state units due to their far distance from the Houston area. Don Urdy from the USO-Houston, described how that organization serves the military in the Houston area. Other witnesses testified as to the potential for growth at Ellington given the high level of demand for its services and the continuing support of state authorities.
The Texas Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations is Chaired by Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. Members include Senators Todd Staples of Palestine acting as Co-Chair, Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, Chris Harris of Fort Worth, and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso. Also attending today were Senators Mario Gallegos of Houston and Mike Jackson of LaPorte. The Committee recessed subject to call of the chair.