Meet the 2023 Great American Defense Communities
City of El Paso, Texas
El Paso, Texas, home to Fort Bliss, is located in the western tip of the state and home to more than 2.5 million people. Fort Bliss is the second-largest military installation in the U.S. and the single largest employer in the region. In this defense community, the city’s Military and Veteran Affairs Department sets a high standard with an impressive suite of outreach programs designed to meet the needs of military veterans and their families. Much of the city’s outreach strategy is guided by the landmark El Paso Veterans Needs Assessment that was launched in 2020. These efforts are supported by the work of Endeavors, a local non-profit organization.
Sharing the story of military life beyond installation fence lines is imperative to the ‘One Community’ mission. Sun City Bliss is show put on by the City of El Paso and airs on the city’s social media, City TV, and Fort Bliss platforms. The goal of the show is to introduce resources available to veteran and military personnel, as well as connect the El Paso community to service members and families.
Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska
In his 1935 address to Congress, Gen. Billy Mitchell said, “I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world.” Today, eyes are on the arctic. In Alaska, that means Fairbanks. Located in the heart of Interior Alaska, the Golden Heart City is America’s Gateway to the Arctic. The Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB), the second largest borough in Alaska, is home to the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole. The military represents about 30% of the population and economy and boasts one of the nation’s highest rates of veterans per capita. The FNSB supports multiple DoD missions: US Army Garrison (USAG) Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base, USAG Fort Greely, and Clear Space Force Station.
Supporting service members, veterans and their families is of the upmost importance to the Fairbanks community. There are several innovative programs and facilities in the Borough geared toward addressing the mental health challenges that can come with living somewhere as remote as Alaska’s interior. For instance, UAF’s Center for Alaskan Native Health Research initiated a research program with the Army in the fall of 2022 to share knowledge gained over the past twenty years regarding suicide among young people in Alaska Native communities. The knowledge and skills developed are now being translated to better understand systemic conditions within military communities.
Fort George G. Meade Region, Maryland
Fort George G. Meade, located halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., is home to all six branches of the military. Fort Meade is Maryland’s largest employer and has the third largest workforce of any Army installation in the continental United States. There are more than a combined 62,000 military and civilians on the Installation.
One of the region’s biggest partnership success stories is the transformation of Fort George G. Meade’s historic Kuhn Hall into a state-of-the-art Education and Resiliency Center. The Fort Meade Alliance and the Fort Meade Alliance Foundation undertook a $5.1. million-dollar fundraising campaign and planning cycle over the course of 11 years. As the forward operating base for our nation, Fort Meade is a unique installation. The stress of the missions that service members conduct there, in addition to the clearance levels they possess, contribute to issues such as suicides, spousal issues, self-harm and more. The Education and Resiliency Center serves as a community hub to connect the men and women of Fort Meade with help—whether that help is inside or outside the fence line.
This partnership is incredibly unique in its scope and planning. It received approval from the Secretary of the Army and was read into the congressional record. The facility opened in November 2022 and is serving the Fort Meade Department of Defense Community today.
Greater Omaha, Nebraska
The Greater Omaha community is home to Offutt Air Force Base. Since its early days as a frontier Army outpost to its current role today as the center of Strategic Deterrence and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), the surrounding community has shared a heartbeat with Offutt AFB. Through a variety of quality-of-life efforts, the city of Omaha and its neighbors work hard to make service members and military families feel welcome.
Every November, Operation Giving Thanks coordinates with local and state-wide businesses to provide turkeys and hams for military families during the holidays. The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and Offutt Advisory Council partnered to provide over 400 care packages bags to Airmen in the dorms who are unable to go home for the holidays. Military-community partnerships were tested in recent years with historic flood in 2019 that damaged 137 buildings on base, the COVID-19 pandemic and a much-needed replacement of the base’s single primary runway—but stakeholders agree these challenges brought this defense community closer together, moving forward into a brighter, more resilient future.
Montgomery-River Region, Alabama
The Montgomery-River Region, home to Maxwell Air Force Base, is focused on improving education opportunities and resources for military families and the entire community at-large. Cognizant of the reputation of local schools’ and the impact that has on Airmen’s acceptance of assignments and their continuation on active duty, the River Region and State of Alabama committed to partnering with Air University to establish the Maxwell-River Region Partnership for Educational Excellence, which focuses on improving the quality of education available to all families.
In addition to the River Region’s dedication to education, in 2021 the state of Alabama launched the Mentorship-Hub to provide additional support services to military spouses. The Alabama Mentorship-Hub is a first-in-nation statewide virtual network of military spouses, mentors, and advocates to bring 24/7 peer-to-peer mentorship to Active, Guard and Reserve military spouses already living in or moving to the state. Mentors who volunteer in the HUB are trained military spouses who share indispensable, first-hand information related to life in Alabama, its military installations and its defense communities which nurtures an important sense of community and belonging.
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 shines a light on the regions and individuals that are making a difference. The program was designed to recognize and celebrate communities with an exceptional commitment to improving the lives of service members, veterans and their families. The Great American Defense Communities is made possible through ADC’s partnership with USAA.
This year, GADC will focus on innovation, workforce development, education, entrepreneurship and supporting young service members.
To learn more about past Great American Defense Communities, watch their stories on ADC’s GADC YouTube channel.
Families welcome home Sailors attached to the “Red Rippers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11 in Virginia Beach, Va. Part of the Hampton Roads region, Virginia Beach was a 2017 Great American Defense Community. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn E. Macdonald