Originally published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on May 2nd, 2012
EGLIN AFB — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio told a crowd at the Air Force Armament Museum on Wednesday that it would be foolish to move any of the base’s missions elsewhere.
“It’d be like building a baseball stadium and getting rid of the baseball team,” he said. “We have spent decades now investing in Eglin’s people, and in the facilities and the community that’s been developed around it. Why would you walk away from that?
Rubio’s tour of the Panhandle tour included circuits of Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field on Wednesday. During a brief speech and ensuing question-and-answer session, he repeated his stance of maintaining defense spending while solving the budget deficit through a reorganization of Medicare and Social Security.
“If we zeroed out defense spending, it wouldn’t make a dent on the deficit,” he said. “What’s driving the debt is Medicare and Medicaid.”
Rubio mentioned collaborations with Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, and even favorably quoted President Barack Obama. His tour comes after a highly publicized speech April 25 at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., in which he laid out an aggressively centrist foreign policy backed by a strong defense, which some media outlets said is not very different from Obama’s.
On Wednesday, Rubio affirmed support for Rep. Jeff Miller’s recent marker on the 2013 National Defense Authorization Bill that would require the Air Armament Center to stay at Eglin unless a future Base Realignment and Closure Act declares otherwise. The Air Armament Center contains the 46th Test Wing’s research, evaluation, development, and testing functions, whose top-level scientists and engineers contribute significantly to Northwest Florida’s economy.
Budget cuts proposed by the Air Force would eliminate the Air Armament Center at Eglin, and call for the 46th Test Wing and 96th Air Base Wing to report directly to Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Many residents fear that change could be the first step to more mission losses, considering Edwards’ past attempts to relocate the 46th Test Wing there.
Rubio emphasized that moving anything from Eglin would not only be bad for Florida, but be bad for the broader military mission.
“I’m focused on a second line of argument,” he said. “I think this is actually counterproductive for our national defense. Eglin as a whole is a very unique place … We need to respect that.”
As has been his custom since rumors began swirling, the 40-year-old chuckled away questions about possibly being Mitt Romney’s GOP running mate.
“I look forward to hearing about your nomination,” one woman in the crowd said after his speech.
“Oh man,” Rubio grinned.