Belton: Visiting the Cyber-Hub of the South and the Nation

The U.S. Army’s ‘Cyber Center of Excellence’, Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., hosted a multi-service ‘NetWar’ to show, and build, cyber Warrior capabilities Tuesday, June 10. Twenty-eight Soldiers, Airmen, Navy and Marine Corps computer professionals comprised four teams representing the U.S. Army’s active, reserve and National Guard with one Joint-services team that included a U.S. Special Operations Command civilian. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Tracy Smith)

Our common defense is the government’s greatest obligation. That is why Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) appointed me as the chairman of the new House Military Affairs Study Committee, a committee that looks at ways we can improve the military value of Georgia’s bases. The committee’s fourth meeting was held at Fort Gordon in Augusta, and Congressmen Jody Hice and Rick Allen joined us in support of our efforts to protect Georgia’s bases.

Fort Gordon, home to the Cyber Command and Signal Command Headquarters, is responsible for all of the Army’s communications. Fort Gordon also recently took on a portion of the National Security Agency. Fort Gordon employs 15,500 soldiers, 12,000 civilians and 38,500 off-base employees, totaling in 66,000 jobs with an annual economic impact of $2.1 billion. Fort Gordon is the only base in the Army that is actually growing, with a procured budget of almost $1 billion in new construction to support its offensive and defensive cyber warfare infrastructure.

Fort Gordon currently partners with Augusta University (AU), previously known as the Medical University of Georgia, in an effort to become the “World Class Cyber District” of the South. AU, the fourth largest research university in Georgia, has already developed a K-12 STEM pathways curriculum, as well as a master’s degree program in cyber systems. Careers in cyber security are growing three times faster than careers in information technology, and Augusta had more than 7,000 unfilled cyber jobs last year alone. Because of this dilemma, AU is creating a new campus in downtown Augusta to appeal to millennial students and entrepreneurs. The synergy and informational dominance of this institution’s cyber and medical innovations has resulted in tremendous growth – growth that could soon make Augusta the “Silicon Valley” of the East Coast.

The military’s top quality-of-life priority, K-12 education, has been a consistent theme at every committee meeting thus far.  Top generals and admirals insist that K-12 education has become their No. 1 quality-of-life issue because soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines often choose to leave the service rather than relocate to bases surrounded with poor preforming schools.

“If communities do not offer soldiers’ children a consistent, high-quality education, they risk the economic challenges that result from losing support of a major employer,” said the non-partisan Stinson Center. Most states (65 percent) have heeded this warning and are actively working to improve K-12 education around their bases to avoid base closures.

If you compare the academic achievement of the six states with the largest military populations (California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, in that order), most surveys show Virginia leads as the seventh best performing state, followed by Florida at 14th; North Carolina at 19th; Texas at 21st; Georgia at 35th; and California at 40th. Virginia also leads this group in spending per child at 26th; followed by California at 36th; Georgia at 39th; Florida at 43rd; Texas at 45th; and North Carolina at 46th. All six states increased their education budgets last year. Georgia, North Carolina and Florida only increased their education budgets by 3 percent, while Virginia, Texas and California increased their budgets by 10 percent.

Increased spending does not necessarily result in better performing schools, but it is clear that Georgia needs to make education a top priority if we want to keep our fourth largest industry, and single largest employer, from leaving the state. Georgia plays an important role in our national security, and our study committee is working hard to ensure that this is communicated to our decision makers.

The committee’s next visit will be at Fort Stewart and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

About the author

Dave Belton

Ga. Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, represents the citizens of District 112, which includes all of Morgan County and the eastern side of Newton County. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2014, and currently serves as a member of the Economic Development & Tourism, Education, and Interstate Cooperation committees.