The 2024 Class of Great American Defense Communities

Fort Smith, Arkansas

Fort Smith is the third-largest city in Arkansas with a diverse population of over 88,000 people and is a regional center for healthcare, education, and manufacturing. The city is also home to Ebbing Air National Guard Base and the Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center (FCMTC). In March 2023, Ebbing Air National Guard Base was selected to host foreign partners and additional active-duty personnel to train on the F-16 and F-35. In September 2023, FCMTC was upgraded to a Level 1 training site: one of just five nationwide. For decades, the Fort Smith Chamber and community partners have worked to support military families by providing resources and networking opportunities, and by promoting events and programs that are relevant to military personnel and their families.

The community offers several initiatives that provide stability and support for service members, their families and veterans. The Veterans Upward Bound program provides educational support to veterans and their families, regardless of discharge status, through academic advising, career counseling and planning, financial aid assistance, and more. Recognizing that children of service men and women are the future, the Fort Smith community is an advocate and partner of local nonprofit Camp Alliance. The Camp Alliance Kids in Drill program provides childcare for children of service members while they attend drill weekends and annual training weeks. Camp Alliance also created interactive kiosks that provide service members and veterans with information on resources available to them, including physical and mental health services, career and education training, family and child services, and more.

Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Elizabeth City is rural but vibrant, small but bustling, and diverse yet united in its ethos as the “Harbor of Hospitality.” In addition to being Northeastern North Carolina’s hub for culture, commerce, higher education, and healthcare, the city is also home to Base Elizabeth City. The US Coast Guard air station supports six major commands and is responsible for not only operations across the Atlantic, such as search-and-rescue and drug interdiction, but managing, maintaining and modernizing the Coast Guard’s entire fleet of aircrafts. The Elizabeth City community is fully mindful that to truly support the Coast Guard’s mission, they must also support its people. This commitment to supporting Coast Guard service members led to the city’s recognition as an official “Coast Guard City” in 2015.

One of the community’s greatest partners for the US Coast Guard is Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), a historically black college/university (HBCU). Aware of the unique support that military service members and veterans may need during their schooling, ECSU operates a Military and Veterans Affairs Center (MVAC) dedicated to supporting the complete veteran. It partners with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure students get their full educational benefits from the GI Bill and ensures that service members and veteran students always have access to the academic, financial and career advisors they need. The MVAC goes above and beyond by advocating for veterans, sponsoring numerous veteran-oriented events and activities and offering VA Readjustment Counseling to service members, veterans and their families.

Black Hills Region, South Dakota (Rapid City & Box Elder)

The Black Hills, South Dakota area includes the communities of Rapid City and Box Elder and is home to Ellsworth Air Force Base and Camp Rapid, the South Dakota National Guard Base housing the South Dakota National Guard Joint Force Headquarters. The area boasts a robust offering of outdoor activities and has seen unprecedented growth in recent years. With the nearest major metropolitan area being over six hours away, the region is often viewed with apprehension by military members before moving to the area. However, once they’ve experienced the Black Hills Region, many want to stay or retire in the area. The State of South Dakota, local governmental agencies and the Black Hills Military Advisory Coalition (BH MAC) have combined efforts and maximized resources to ensure that military members and their families have the support and infrastructure to thrive.

To acquaint new Airmen with the local community and extend a warm welcome to the area, the BH MAC partnered with a local tour company and Ellsworth AFB to offer weekly community tours to all new Airmen. This program is a part of Ellsworth’s Right Start program, which is mandated for all new Airmen to attend. This program has been lauded by Air Force Global Strike Command leadership and recognized as an Air Force best practice. Additionally, the community came together to raise funds for the construction of the Liberty Center, a 50,000-square-foot state-of-the-art fitness and recreation facility specifically designed to meet the needs of Ellsworth Airmen and their families.

About the Program

Every day, America’s defense communities are working to create welcoming and supportive spaces for service members and their families to live and thrive.  As the home to our military, these communities recognize the unique challenges and hard work needed to ensure military families are made to feel valued. 

The Great American Defense Communities (GADC) program was developed to recognize and celebrate communities demonstrating an exceptional commitment to improving the lives of service members, veterans and their families. The program is made possible through ADC’s partnership with USAA. 

This year ADC will recognize its 50th Great American Defense Community. To celebrate this milestone we will be checking in on past Great American Defense Communities in addition to highlighting our 2024 class of communities.  

To learn more about the programs and stories that pique ADC’s interest—watch our Great American Defense Communities series on our YouTube channel.

Capt. Manning Montagnet, commanding officer of Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi, Japan, motivates Shirley Lanham Elementary School students during a Month of the Military Child opening ceremony. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Henry Liu

Timeline

January 10

Program nomination period opens.

January 18th

GADC informational webinar held on Zoom.

February 14

Program nomination period closes.

Late-February

Communities are selected and notified.

Mid-March

Press releases are distributed to communities, outreach to local and national media in anticipation of 2024 Defense Communities National Summit.

April 8 - 10

2024 Class of Great American Defense Communities announced at the Defense Communities National Summit.

April - September

  • Coordinate delegation visits and GADC ceremonies in each community.
  • Coordinate GADC video shoots with each community.

October 28 - 30

Great American Defense Communities are honored throughout the 2024 Installation Innovation Forum in San Antonio, TX.

For more information about the Great American Defense Communities program, contact Mark Parrott at mparrott@defensecommunities.org.