MONTGOMERY — U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville made stops in the Capital City Thursday as part of his swing through the state during the Senate recess.
After visits to Maxwell Air Force Base and the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field, Tuberville lauded the missions of Alabama’s military installations and spoke of the importance of maintaining them.
“There’s a lot of tradition here,” he said, speaking of Montgomery’s history with the Air Force and the “Red Tails” legacy of the 187th. “It’s important that we keep it going. Obviously, coming here in the future we’ve got one of the best weapons the world has ever known in the F-35. We’re excited about that. I’m here today to walk around and take a look to see what we can do to move that up, get the needed buildings built quicker and faster…”
In 2017, the Air Force selected the Alabama Air National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing to house the next-generation F-35 fighter jet. Aircraft are scheduled to begin arriving in 2023, and they will require special hangars and other facility upgrades.
Just six months into his first term, Tuberville has sought to leverage his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to prioritize Alabama’s military installations and other national defense issues. During this week’s travels, the senator visited Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville as well as multiple aerospace companies there. He previously visited Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass, the Air National Guard’s 117th Refueling Wing in Birmingham and the Anniston Army Depot.
During such trips, one subject that is hard to avoid is the prospect of Alabama’s bases being impacted by the next Base Realignment and Closure process, or BRAC. There is no BRAC currently scheduled, but some experts have said another round could be necessary due to how much global threats have changed since the last one in 2005. Local leaders have feared Maxwell could be a target due to Montgomery’s struggling school system.
Tuberville said he doesn’t believe a BRAC will happen in the near future and that Alabama’s assets are too important to the military to move or close.
“Well, there’s always that out there. But I can’t imagine BRAC ever taking hold of anything we do in this state because of the importance of it. Especially with the new horizons out there — China wanting to be a new world power, Russia looking to come back to the old USSR, so to speak, with Putin flexing his muscles. I don’t think there’s a strong possibility of a BRAC taking hold for anybody in the near future. We need growth.”
Tuberville recently made headlines by co-sponsoring bi-partisan legislation to reform how the military adjudicates sexual assault cases. He joined with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to sponsor the bill, which now has 64 co-sponsors in the Senate, making it likely to pass if it comes up for a vote.
Gillibrand and Earnst have sponsored similar legislation in the past but have not been successful in passing it. Tuberville said he and others helped work out a compromise that sees investigations and cases remain within the military, but be handled by the Judge Advocate General corps rather than simply through the chain of command.
“Abuse in the military, or anywhere, shouldn’t be accepted and shouldn’t be overlooked,” he said. “The problem we were having in the military is we weren’t making any progress. A lot of people wanted to take the arrest out of the jurisdiction of the military. I’m totally against that.
“So we worked out a situation where we could leave it in the military, leaving it in their jurisdiction, just take it out of the purview of the commanding officer in that area. I think we can make a lot of progress in overcoming the problem of abuse in the military.”
Tuberville said such bipartisan efforts are necessary and possible when senators build relationships.
“I’m making a lot of good friends, and that’s what you need to do. This is not the House where you have 435 members. We have 100, and to get anything done you have to build relationships. That’s all I’ve done for 40 years,” Tuberville said.
“It takes time. I’ve been in, what, five or six months. I’m learning every day, learning from one of the best in Sen. Shelby.”
Asked by reporters what he thought of President Joe Biden’s plan to offer some of the United States’ vaccines to other nations who lack them, Tuberville said he was all for it.
“First of all, we want as many people to take it in the United States,” he said. “You’ve seen Coach Saban on television telling people to go take it, I’ve taken it, it’s safe. We need to get this virus behind us.
“We’re going to have enough vaccines for us in this country. I think it’s good that President Biden is looking forward saying if we’ve got enough, let’s help other people in other countries… Just getting (COVID-19) behind us in this country isn’t enough. We’ve got to help out Europe, Africa and other places that can’t afford it because, if it lingers out there, it could come back.”