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An irreplaceable national treasure

Former California governor praises China Lake contributions to national defense

Pete Wilson

Rebecca Neipp, News Review Staff Writer

An entourage of retired, high-ranking military and political officials on a mission to champion unique capabilities in national defense praised the groundbreaking work, as well as the unique geography, at China Lake after a series of meetings, tours and public appearances earlier this week.

“You don’t need someone to breeze into town and tell you what a remarkable facility China Lake is — but it is truly amazing,” said former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who is honorary co-chair of the Southwest Defense Alliance. “I had the privilege as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee of having several very impressive briefings. I’ve never had one that topped this, and damned few came close.”

Wilson, along with retired officers Vice Adm. Peter Hekman (Navy), Lt. Gen. John Regni (Air Force), Maj. Gen. Dennis Kenneally (Army) and Morgan Lewis consultant Sean Walsh toured China Lake and the Coso geothermal area as part of a SWDA endeavor to understand the military assets worth preserving in the southwestern United States (see also related story, this page).

“I am struck by the irony that what we witnessed this afternoon can’t be discussed publicly,” said Wilson. “The nice thing about China Lake is that it has a long and incredibly distinguished history. We can talk about the past, but we can’t talk about the present when we are doing our best to avoid cyber attacks from people who would steal our secrets.”

Wilson said that he was “blown away” by what he saw during his visit and that his primary concern is that operations continue to be adequately funded.

“These programs are truly cutting edge. To say they will safeguard America’s freedom is an understatement. Our freedom will always be threatened — unhappily, that’s the way it is in the world. There is evil in this world. Some people can’t quite grasp that, but there are a lot of people in this room who understand it too well,” said Wilson.

“I will say, that you have every reason — even if I can’t recite all the things we witnessed this afternoon — to be immensely proud and grateful for what is happening at China Lake.” He said that the level of dedication, professionalism and skill demonstrated through the collaboration between military and civilian personnel has yielded capabilities that uniquely serve national defense.

“I will make again, briefly, the point I made this afternoon — if you are seen by your enemies as strong, having capability and resolve, no one is going to pick a fight with someone they know will clean their clock. That’s the situation we have here, and I wish you could know what we saw today,” he said.

“The real question is, how can we help? How can we make certain this remarkable facility and the people here have what they need to do the job?” He said that he, along with the other members of the alliance, would be doing what they could to preserve the valuable work on one-of-a-kind ranges. “To move this would be an act of criminal neglect or worse,” said Wilson.

“As much as I would like to see a broad bipartisan chorus singing the praises of China Lake,” he said the reality is that representative government has been reduced in many cases to individuals fighting for “pork” in their own districts. “This is not pork. This is national security.” SWDA will make sure that decision makers understand the intrinsic value of the mission at China Lake, as well as the dangers of failing to adequately support it.

“There are a lot of people who share our concerns and our admiration for what is being done here at China Lake. We need to make certain the people who are bearing that message in SWDA have an echo chamber — a loud, reverberating echo chamber — not only for future [base realignment and closure commissions], but so those individuals know before they even come here how important this is to the future of our nation.”

He said that our valley is fortunate to be represented by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a vocal advocate for preserving China Lake capabilities.

“I will preach the gospel as well — to those who don’t want to hear it, as well as to those who know it and don’t need the lecture.”

Mayor Peggy Breeden said she was honored to welcome the visitors from SWDA to the community. “In talking to them, I realized how much they already knew about us. They understand where we are, what we do and, even more, what we need to be in the future,” she said. “We are proud of their commitment to the area — especially Gov. Wilson’s remarks and his promise to carry our message.”

Joan Johnson, executive director of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, expressed pleasure at co-hosting, with the Naval Air Weapons Station, the visit to China Lake. “It was a great opportunity to showcase how the NAWCWD civilian-military team uses our one-of-a-kind ranges and facilities to deliver advanced war fighting capabilities to the fleet.”

Story First Published: 2016-01-29