Senators played role in bringing military here

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Alabama is without a doubt one of the most heavily laden military employee states in the union. In fact, if you took the federal military employment and automobile manufacturing employment out of Alabama, we would be decimated.

When the federal furloughs occurred recently, it had a profound affect on Alabama. When the furloughs hit, more than 20,000 Alabama workers — mostly civilians — were affected.

We have tremendously important and significant federal bases in strategic parts of the state. These military bases are the heart and soul of their regions. These bases are vitally important to Alabama.

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Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal, Dothan’s Fort Rucker and Montgomery’s Maxwell Air Force Base are the most important economic engines of these areas of the state. When you throw in Mobile’s Corps of Engineers, you are talking about a lot of good paying jobs.

Recently, while visiting with Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, I asked him about the most important and largest employer in his city. I assumed that with Montgomery being the capital, state government and state employees was No. 1. My second assumption was that the tremendous Hyundai plant located in Montgomery was No. 2. He said neither is number one. The number one economic impetus and largest employer in the River Region is the Maxwell-Gunter Air Force facility. I was amazed.

Strange further elaborated that there are additional benefits to his city that do not show up in statistics. Thousands of military retirees have chosen Montgomery as their retirement home. These Air Force officers, who retire in Montgomery and throughout the state, are extremely important to Alabama’s economy. They may have been born in Minnesota, but decide they like the climate in the South and do not want to pay the high property taxes on the Florida Gulf Coast. Strange said if you throw in the ramifications of military retirees, the importance of Maxwell/Gunter becomes even more significant.

If you think Maxwell is important to Montgomery, then you ain’t seen nothing when you compare how important the Redstone Arsenal is to Huntsville or Fort Rucker is to the Wiregrass. These two bases are the premier economic centers of their regions. Redstone Arsenal and NASA built Huntsville. Like Montgomery, most of these high-paid NASA engineers choose to retire in the beautiful Tennessee Valley area of our state.

Folks, there are more than 400,000 military retirees living in Alabama. We are and have always been a very pro-military state. Our state merit system is even designed to give preferences to military veterans. We also have 12,000 Alabamians on current active military duty. In addition, we have 22,000 in Reserves and in the National Guard.

You can thank a congressional delegation of bygone years for these vital federal facilities located in our state. We had a tandem in the U.S. Senate for close to 30 years that spanned the 1940s through 1960s that were instrumental in securing and nurturing these important bases. Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman spearheaded the efforts to locate Redstone Arsenal, and other bases to their state. We are reaping the benefits today of these two distinguished gentlemen’s efforts.

Lister Hill was from Montgomery. He worked diligently to sustain Maxwell and Gunter in his hometown. John Sparkman was born in Hartselle and moved to Huntsville as an adult to practice law. Both men were SGA presidents at the University of Alabama. Both men graduated from Alabama Law School and practiced law a short time before going to Congress at an early age. They both served about 10 years in the U.S. Congress before garnering their U.S. Senate seats before they were 40 years old. Hill was the scion of a prominent Montgomery family. Sparkman was the ultimate Horatio Alger story.

Both left an indelible mark on the state. We are reaping the harvest from their labors today. As mentioned, Redstone Arsenal and NASA are what built Huntsville. Therefore, John Sparkman’s being the father of that base leaves quite a legacy. They probably should change the city’s name from Huntsville to Sparkmanville.

Our Senior Senator Richard Shelby has done a yeoman’s job of protecting and sustaining these facilities over the last 20 years. He has been especially instrumental in the funding of Redstone Arsenal.

We have had some outstanding U.S. Senators from our state. However, history will record that our three greatest senators have been Lister Hill, John Sparkman and Richard Shelby.


Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in more than 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at