Written by Alex Gault for the Watertown Daily Times on July 2, 2020

Congresswoman Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, walked away from this year’s National Defense Authorization Act markup with some key wins for Fort Drum and the north country.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Stefanik was part of the committee’s 14-hour markup on Wednesday, and she says she advocated for the north country, and for the armed forces, throughout the process.

Fort Drum was named as the preferred site for the location of a land-based missile defense underlayer, a project that would expand Fort Drum as a military installation and locate a regional missile defense system on post.

“This is the first time Congress has specifically named Fort Drum, so if and when a land-based missile defense underlayer site is built, it will be at Fort Drum,” Rep. Stefanik said in an interview Thursday.

Last June, Fort Drum was designated as the preferred location for an East Coast missile defense site by a “small margin,” according to the Department of Defense.

The DOD indicated they had no plans to actually build the system. At the time, Rep. Stefanik said that just as she had pushed for Fort Drum to become the preferred site for the system, she would push for the department to move forward with the project.

“The big change over the past year is, we know more about our missile defense capabilities,” Rep. Stefanik said.

The DOD began expressing interest in another, localized missile defense underlayer system to support the larger systems already in place. The NDAA now states that any plans to build the underlayer system should follow the environmental impact study that selected Fort Drum as the East Coast missile defense site last year.

The project could be smaller than what would be required for the larger plans that preceded it, but Rep. Stefanik said that the project will net the area millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

The markup also added a number of points for members of the military and DOD employees specifically. There was a 3 percent pay raise for soldiers, the mandate of a passphrase that would initiate mental health care for service members, support for voting security for soldiers abroad and at home and a pilot program for service members to freeze their reproductive cells before deploying to combat.

The bill now also includes increased funding for students of service members who attend schools in the community as opposed to schools on post.

“That’s a unique aspect of the Fort Drum community, the fact that there is not a school on post,” Rep. Stefanik said. The final version of the bill passed through the committee unanimously, and will go to the full House floor for a vote at the end of the month. Rep. Stefanik said that, with the history of bipartisan support behind the bill in the past, she is confident it will pass easily.

Whether it passes with all the current amendments still in place is another question.

The Senate’s version of the bill is further along in the legislative process, and once the House version passes the floor the two bills will be reconciled in conference.

“I feel very optimistic that we will send a bipartisan bill to the president’s desk,” Rep. Stefanik said.

You can read the full article at https://www.nny360.com/