Perhaps the Omaha area will land the Space Command headquarters after a newly announced review of the siting decision. Perhaps not. The additional 1,400 personnel at Offutt Air Force Base, and investment of $1 billion to $2 billion in base construction, certainly would give a major economic boost as our area works to move past the COVID era.
In any case, discussion of the Space Command issue provides an occasion for the Omaha area to understand and appreciate our major military connections and the benefits that flow from them.
Offutt is one of Nebraska’s largest employers, and its annual economic impact to our area approaches some $2.7 billion. The base has around 8,000 military and civilian personnel, with nearly 32,000 military, civilians, contractors, dependents and retirees in the area.
Our area’s civilian support efforts for the base have long been well coordinated and energetic. That work has helped secure Offutt’s continued presence here amid ongoing debates over military resource allocation and base closures.
The service by Offutt personnel is a particular source of pride for our area. From their location in the center of our country, 55th Wing personnel head out to span the globe, monitoring security conditions from the northern Pacific to the Middle East. Our military’s understanding of North Korea nuclear testing, as well as China’s ambitious naval operations, for example, rely in considerable measure on the sophisticated monitoring by 55th Wing personnel aloft over waters far from Nebraska.
The U.S. Strategic Command has secured our nuclear deterrent for decades. And in recent years the forensic work by Offutt specialists has been inspiring. Using innovative techniques, those scientists have identified the remains of U.S. service personnel from overseas conflicts going back to World War II. This impressive effort has brought comfort to families burdened by uncertainty, sometimes for generations, over their lost loved ones.
The University of Nebraska made a smart strategic step in 2012 when it received permission to create the National Strategic Research Institute, which works directly with the Pentagon and other federal agencies on national security projects. NU has a strong partnership with StratCom, and in 2018 the command approved a five-year, $92 million contract with NU to continue the research institute’s wide range of security-related projects.
NU faculty and students have worked on more than 80 military-focused research projects since 2012, covering a gamut of academic disciplines. Here are just a few examples:
University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers focused on ways to improve the metals used on military vehicles to boost performance in harsh conditions. UNL faculty, drawing on their expertise in civil engineering, honed techniques to boost the security of military entry points. University of Nebraska Medical Center scientists have pursued next-generation vaccines for anthrax and infectious diseases. University of Nebraska at Omaha researchers have been pioneering in using computer-facilitated tools to study the psychology of extremist groups.
As a result of that innovative work, UNO was recently selected to head a national academic consortium focusing on counterterrorism research and analysis. The 10-year, $36.5 million grant for the project was the largest so far in UNO’s history.
Our military does invaluable work in keeping us safe. Omaha-area residents can take pride in the important contributions our area makes to those efforts.
NU faculty and students have worked on more than 80 military-focused research projects since 2012.