Navy depot supports military and local economy

It is located behind a Hampden Township strip mall off the heavily traveled Carlisle Pike. The only waterways near it are the Conodoguinet Creek and the Susquehanna River. It's hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, but every U.S. Navy ship on the sea relies on the Naval Support Activity.

In fact, if a sailor eats it, or a Marine shoots it, it was sent by the nerve center in Mechanicsburg.

“All the inner workings that make our Navy and Marine Corps powerful, a lot of it comes through the logistics muscle that's here on this base,” said Captain James Smart.

But NAVSUP, as its called, doesn't just support fighting men and women across the globe. With 4,300 workers, nearly all of them civilian, it's one of the midstate's top employers.

“The estimated impact on the local economy is about $1.3 billion in both payrolls and purchases,” Smart said.

That doesn't include the trickle down money spent by all those local paychecks. After the state, NAVSUP is among the region's employment leaders.

But it began modestly, literally, as the smoke cleared from wounded ships in Pearl Harbor. The base opened in 1942 primarily as a warehouse and distribution center. Today, it's a city within a city.

“We've got our own fire department, we've got our own police force, our own plumbers, electricians,” Smart said.

And brand new, gorgeous, military housing.

“It's beautiful. It's spacious. The kids have plenty of room,” said Polly Reyes.

Reyes and her husband, Commander Mark Reyes, are raising their three boys on the base in a newly built home. A few years ago, NAVSUP's houses were torn down and replaced.

These are not the barracks of old. A private company called Lincoln Military Housing builds them and manages them for Uncle Sam. They have lots of modern amenities like lofty ceilings, mahogany cabinets, stainless steel appliances and plenty of space.

“We're a large company,” said Jarl Bliss, president of Lincoln. “We manage a lot of homes, but none more important than the military homes that we manage because of the folks that live in them. Because of what they do for the rest of us. They serve us and we're honored to be here and serve them.”

Polly and Mark have lived in several military homes and call this, by far, the best.

“There's so much to do. The playground, the soccer fields, just walking your dog down the street. It's fun and it's just a clean, nice community and very friendly,” Polly Reyes said.

Mark, a 20-year Navy man, said it's much easier doing his job knowing that his family has nice accommodations.

The latest construction within the 800 fenced-in acres is a real about-face for the base. The Army is coming this fall. Construction is underway on a piece of the old golf course.

“It'll be a training readiness center for the soldiers,” said Mike Notto with the Army Corps of Engineers. “In this particular instance an engineer company, they'll do weekend drills here and annual training.”

Armed Forces Day is Saturday and without question the armed forces are a tour de force for the midstate's economy. According to the Regional Chamber of Commerce, military bases account for 10 percent of the workforce. At NAVSUP, only 150 of the 4,300 employees are military. The rest are civilians.

But even those who don't work there benefit from it being there. And Smart says, the region shows its love.

“I've lived many different places throughout the country and I've never lived anywhere where the people are more patriotic and supportive of the military than they are here in south-central Pennsylvania,” he said.

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