Since it was founded in 1931, Fort Indiantown Gap has been an invaluable asset to Lebanon County.

Approximately 3,500 National Guard members work at the Gap’s air facilities, army guard, the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, and the armory based in Lebanon as of 2023. Another 2,600 full-time civilians are also employed there.  

The U.S. government generated $382.6 million in federal expenditures in Lebanon County and another $36.7 million in state expenditures, according to 2023 statistics provided to LebTown by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ Policy, Planning and Legislative Affairs office. 

That’s a reason why local and state officials, known as the Local Defense Group, meet. They collaborate to ensure the ongoing economic viability of the area now and into the future through the Gap. The working group is administered by the Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corporation.

In addition to an array of military personnel, there are representatives from county, state, Union Township, Congressman Dan Meuser’s office and ELCO School District in the group. Other LDG members include Sen. Chris Gebhard and Rep. Russ Diamond, and individuals from M&T Bank and Envision Financial Group, Lebanon.  

“I remember 25 years ago, give or take, we were in danger of losing Fort Indiantown Gap, and the Chamber of Commerce put together a concerted effort with the community,” said Lebanon County commissioner Mike Kuhn, who represents the commissioners on the LDG. “It was only then that I fully appreciated the impact – the positive impact – that the Gap made in our community in terms of jobs and revenue. I never even thought about that. I just thought that as a place that soldiers went to in the summertime, mostly. But it’s a huge asset to our community in many ways.”

Read More: 25 years ago, Fort Indiantown Gap was on track for obsolescence; instead, the PA National Guard revitalized the base

Front gate at Fort Indiantown Gap. (Source: Pennsylvania National Guard Public Affairs Office, via Wikipedia)

Susan Eberly, executive director, president and CEO of the economic development corporation, said the group was formed to fulfill a need for such an entity to facilitate communications between the military and the public in Lebanon County.

“Fort Indiantown Gap is such a big economic contributor and I think that’s why they (DCED) went out to the other economic development groups in Franklin and Cumberland counties,” said Eberly about why the state promotes these groups. “I am honored to do it, and I am still learning. We came together to find ways we can partner and strengthen that relationship.”

The group is poised to enhance its marketing efforts for military events, according to Eberly. A $21,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Military Community Enhancement Commission was recently awarded to the LDG to promote activities at the military installation.

Some of the group members met prior to the start of their May meeting to discuss childcare needs, an issue that’s not unique to the military installation. 

Read More: Pennsylvania child care centers struggle to survive amid staffing crisis

About 175 childcare agencies statewide closed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Eberly, who shared that statistic from a Lebanon County YMCA representative who attended the brainstorming session concerning child care.  

A Gap representative told officials at the group’s regularly scheduled meeting that several people met with the Y rep as part of an initial fact-finding and information-gathering session concerning childcare needs at the Gap.

“We’re well off at what we’re looking at, but we’ll start looking at the facility requirements and funding requirements,” said Gilbert “Dusty” Durand, director of Policy, Planning and Legislative Affairs at the state DMVA. “We still have to do a lot of ground work to figure out what we need and what the requirements are, so at least we’re looking at it and seeing what the way ahead will look like.” 

Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard, Fort Indiantown Gap employees and residents of surrounding communities attended the installation’s annual holiday tree lighting ceremony Dec. 6. The event as well as others throughout the year are open to the general public. (Pennsylvania National Guard photo by Wayne V. Hall)

The following should give readers some context for the kinds of subjects discussed at the meetings. In May, several presentations from LDG members, including Tec Centro/WEPA, Visit Lebanon Valley and the military garrison, were provided.

Rafael Torres, co-founder of Tec Centro Lebanon/WEPA, said he saw a veteran upon arrival for the meeting that his workforce development organization had recently helped find employment at the Gap’s Community Club, which has a restaurant, bar and a large dining/meeting room on the first floor and additional meeting space on the second floor.

Read More: Tec Centro ‘breaks ground’ for new adult healthcare education classrooms

Torres said he also represents disabled veterans seeking employment to assist them in finding jobs.

“We have an employment specialist who will place folks anywhere, everywhere,” said Torres to the assembled group. “Some temp agencies and some employers have choices and just work with a select group or select agency, but we are there to serve the whole community. We have a job bank, and I can give you my information to help that process.”

Torres said that no matter what a company’s needs are, businesses can share that information with his employment specialist who interviews every single individual who seeks work through Tec Centro.

“It’s a free service to the employer and the job seeker as compared to temp agencies that charge employers and the job seeker out of their wages,” said Torres to Gap officials. “It is a holistic approach to help the processes along.”

Visit Lebanon Valley president Jennifer Kuzo highlighted the upcoming AmericaPA250 celebration of the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026 during the meeting. 

“We do need to highlight the 250th anniversary and we plan to have a history platform, military platform, an education platform to get elementary school students excited about the history of the Lebanon Valley,” said Kuzo. 

An airman from the 14th Air Support Operations Squadron jumps from a Pennsylvania Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook during airborne operations at Fort Indiantown Gap. The pilots and crew chiefs of the chinook worked to provide airmen with a stable platform as they moved over the drop area. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler)

Colonel Kevin Potts, garrison commander for FTIG, said the military installation could possibly utilize the Pennsylvania National Guard Museum – which the group toured after the meeting – to highlight the national guard’s role in defending the nation’s freedom and providing aid during times of disaster.

He suggested a specific display to commemorate the work of the local National Guard could be created and placed at the museum to commemorate the nation’s 250th anniversary.

Read More: Fort Indiantown Gap base commander values his role and career of service

Read More: PA National Guard Military Museum preserves history of state residents called to serve

On the garrison’s side, Potts shared two upcoming events with the group: the 13th annual March for the Fallen in September and an open house at the base, which is tentatively scheduled for September or October.

In response to LebTown’s questions about the group’s goals, State public affairs officer Wayne Hall said the LDG is needed more than ever since the installation became secure last November. 

“Now that we have implemented access control, it’s important to let our partners and our neighbors know that we are not closed off to the public,” said Hall. “We are open for people to come visit. We just want to know why they are coming here.” 

Base guests must register at the visitor center and receive a day pass before gaining access to the base. The base was secured as part of a federal law requiring all federal military installations to be secured following the events of 9/11.

The new Access Control Point on Fisher Avenue was activated on Nov. 1 to enhance security at Fort Indiantown Gap. The public is still welcome to attend FTIG events and dine at the base’s club. (Provided photo)

Hall told LebTown that guests are still encouraged to visit the base’s restaurant to dine and attend public events, including the installation’s annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in early December, among others.

Read More: FTIG officials christen new security system at opening ceremony

Dave Weisnicht, deputy base operations manager for FTIG, said the LDG is not a new organization, having been founded in 2015. He said the group was created to mobilize against any potential BRAC initiatives at the installation. 

“This is an important group to have,” said Weisnicht. “I’ve been on the base for 30 years and you can’t do what we do without the support of the community near you. It’s very impressive that the group goes beyond that. I’ve been on base for two BRACs.” 

BRAC, which stands for Base Realignment and Closure, is the congressionally authorized process the Department of Defense uses to reorganize its base structure to more efficiently and effectively support armed forces, increase operational readiness and facilitate new ways of doing business.

FTIG faced several rounds of BRAC closures in the 1990s, including one in 1991.

The BRAC commission recommended closing Fort Indiantown Gap, except for minimum essential ranges, facilities, and training areas used by reserve components, in 1995, according to the Gap’s website.

The U.S. Army Garrison at the Gap closed in October 1998, and the Pennsylvania National Guard assumed control of the land. The land was then returned to a training site for the Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve units.

For Kuhn, that past BRAC activity is reason enough to work together for the betterment of FTIG which benefits the economy of the Lebanon Valley.

“There’s a practical reason we want the base here and thriving and we have a moral obligation to ensure that happens,” said Kuhn. 

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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