I reluctantly admit I've never been very close to the military. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the service our men and women are giving us as they toil in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at countless other locales throughout the world.
But I don't know anyone who has served our nation since we entered Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Years ago, I knew a couple of people who served in the Army, however their experiences were not the greatest and they didn't want to talk much about it after they came home. I have to go way back to my father who served in the Navy. I keep his memory alive in his naval graduation photo which hangs on my living room wall.
Why this jaunt down memory lane? I drove through North Chicago, Ill., recently. This also meant I drove through Naval Station Great Lakes. That's because this military installation takes up a great deal of the city. You can't drive through one without driving through the other. I live about 30 miles away but have never visited the area. I always thought it included a dozen or so buildings. How wrong I was. The base has 1153 buildings on 1628 acres.
Its population of more than 25,000 military and civilian personnel is more than the city of North Chicago which surrounds it. The nation's largest training facility, or boot camp, has 15 service schools, and has been transforming civilians into sailors since its founding in 1911.
The military is also on my mind because of our annual Top Contractors story on page 25. It's no secret that we've experienced a terrible construction market the last two years. Our severe recession may be over, but the recovery has not been very robust, and signs have cropped up this summer that it may be weakening.
In times like these, the masonry construction industry must be creative in finding new markets. The military may be one of them. Construction of homes, apartment buildings, shopping centers, and hotels may be slow for a while, but whether in peacetime or at war, our country will always have a need for facilities to support our military.
So it was good news when I read how the Department of Defense Military Construction program plans to spend $2.18 billion in the near future for new barracks and hospitals for all of the armed services. Just think of how masonry could step up and replace some of those nearly century-old buildings at Naval Station Great Lakes. Last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would seek to find $100 billion in Pentagon waste over the next five years. This will include various redundancies and military agencies. Spending money on barracks and hospitals to house and care for troops is not waste, so the construction program probably won't be affected.
The Mason Contractors Association of America will be looking to educate lawmakers and the military about the merits of masonry. This is like performing work at a city within a city. How many opportunities will we have to do that?