Area citizens advocate for AEDC in the nation's capitol

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Community leaders recently traveled to Washington, D.C., and walked the halls of Congress to advocate for Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC).

Arnold Community Council (ACC) organized a group of 24 people for the trip, including three elected officials - Coffee County Executive, David Pennington; Manchester Mayor, Betty Superstein and Tullahoma Mayor, Troy Bisby. The group asked lawmakers to fund two military construction projects and establish a special trade zone for AEDC to increase workload at the base. In two weeks, several team members will return to the nation's capitol to help 4th District Congressman Lincoln Davis and Tennessee's Senior Senator, Lamar Alexander, lead the effort to garner support for the ACC-requested Special Trade Zone for AEDC.

"We would like to make it less expensive and cumbersome for commercial, international and government customers to test at AEDC," ACC vice president and former AEDC commander and retired two-star general Mike Wiedemer said. "The ACC is asking the government to give more flexibility to the AEDC commander to negotiate customer rates and to provide greater stability for the AEDC budget."

Wiedemer's idea was to remove International Traffic and Arms Regulation (ITAR) restrictions for a period of five years at AEDC by establishing a Special Trade Zone. The ACC believes ITAR is one of the reasons some customers (national and international) are choosing to test with competitors who don't have the extra red tape and delays associated with testing at AEDC because of ITAR.

"For many years, the ACC has made this trip to DC and typically lobbied for military construction projects to assist in keeping AEDC in a strong position to take on more testing opportunities," said Steve Cope, chairman of the ACC Legislative Affairs team. "This year we wanted to highlight issues that are keeping AEDC from increasing its mission and wanted to assist in breaking down those barriers that might be preventing AEDC from growing its test load."

The establishment of a Special Trade Zone was one part of the request. ACC also wants 75 percent of AEDC funding moved to the Science and Technology budget because it's a more stable source for research and development dollars. The group also says AEDC's mission naturally falls under Science and Technology instead of Operations and Maintenance where the funding currently resides.

ACC President, Bill Comer, says the group is keenly aware of AEDC's nearly $1 billion economic impact on Southern Middle Tennessee, but community support for Arnold AFB is about national concern as well.

"First and foremost, we support AEDC because it is an essential element in the development of aerospace systems that are crucial to our nation's defense," Comer said."Our annual trip to Washington is geared toward promoting initiatives that help ensure adequate funding and enhance AEDC's ability to serve its customers in an effective and efficient manner."

Comer says he was pleased that several members of the ACC were able to meet with Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Donley, and the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz.

"At this meeting, our proposals to improve customer access to AEDC were well received," Comer said.

ACC hosted a breakfast for elected officials and their staffs and attended Tennessee Tuesday, hosted by Senators Alexander and Corker. The six ACC teams visited about 40 congressional offices.

Congressman Lincoln Davis supports the ACC's efforts.

"As Tennesseans, we know we have a crown jewel in AEDC and thanks in part to the hard work being put forth by the ACC, more people are being educated on its capabilities," Congressman Davis said.

"In my view, ACC's goal is simple; to preserve AEDC's great test capabilities for our nation, preserve the jobs of our fellow citizens at AEDC, and to find ways to grow the missions at AEDC for the future," Cope said. "Given the acceptance of our message and an invitation to come back to Washington within two weeks to assist in writing the legislation, I think our team was very successful."

ACC includes 13 counties in Middle Tennessee and Northern Alabama. The group was formed in 2000 to promote the AEDC test and evaluation capabilities and its facilities as well as the unique talents of the people who operate them. ACC members are economic and community development leaders, business owners, chambers of commerce, elected officials, retired employees of AEDC, and other community leaders and citizens who recognize the importance of AEDC. During this trip, the ACC also supported two military construction projects (Power Distribution Modernization; Construct Test Cell Delivery Bay). In previous years, ACC has strongly advocated AEDC as the home for the Common Battlefield Airman Training (CBAT) site and pushed for funding on the RC-1 Cooler project currently underway. The government canceled CBAT before a site was selected.

To learn more about the detailed briefings ACC used during this trip or for membership applications, log onto their Web site at