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Don’t forget Whidbey’s other military residents
The mistake most people make is thinking that the military only includes those you see in uniform. There are people here who are retired military that would also leave if the base was closed. That includes teachers, law enforcement, doctors, small business owners, bankers and artists, just to name a few.
According to the Whidbey Island Almanac, 60 percent of the Whidbey Island population is connected to the Navy base. The base itself pours $590 million into the island economy each year. That doesn’t count the money that we retired military spend here.
We own property, we pay taxes, we spend lots of money – and we vote.
The Navy is the No. 1 employer on the island with 7,500 military personnel and 2,400 civilian employees and contractors. The Navy has been on this island for 70 years. Fort Casey takes us back well over 100 years. Other large employers include the school districts, banks and hospitals. Tell me how many of these jobs would be here if 60 percent of the population left? They will leave with the money and the younger population.
Let me give you two examples of the military and local economy that I have experienced in my 38 years as a military spouse. We lived in a small town in North Dakota with a base located about 10 miles outside of town.
That base had also been there for more than one generation. The new city council decided that they didn’t want the service men and women wearing uniforms in their town. Out of uniform and with family members they were fine, but stopping in town on their way to duty at the outlying missile silos was out of the question. Within six months the business people in town were crying for the ruling to be overturned because they were on the brink of losing their business. The ruling was overturned and so was the city council.
We also lived in Texas when the oil crisis hit. We lived in a bedroom community outside of San Antonio. Two out of every three houses were empty because the owners could no longer afford them. Houses that had sold in the 70s for $125,000 and up were sitting empty for $50,000. The only stable part of that economy was the military and civilian workers on the bases. They kept that town going through rough times so it didn’t die.
Now I ask you, with gas prices going through the roof where is the stability of our island tourist trade? Be careful what you wish for. Can you, the non-military minority, keep this island’s economy going by yourselves?
Those jets have been flying here since long before I was a small child watching them with glee from my aunt’s beach house deck. The island is an enchanting place to live where everyone is welcome. Just don’t tell me I am not.
— Sharyn Mellors