Last week, Air National Guard Brigadier General Christopher M. Faux wrote this in an email to Christopher Adams, co-chairman of the Military-Civilian Community Council:
“With our impact on local business, it is hard to believe we have heard nothing in support [of a proposed machine gun range at Camp Edwards on Joint Base Cape Cod]....For that reason, I will be recommending a conditional confinement for the thousands of soldiers that train here each weekend over the summer to The Adjutant General [of the Massachusetts National Guard]. What that means is anyone training here will be directed to stay and eat on base.”
Gen. Faux, who is the executive director of JBCC, also wrote that he would send a letter to the base’s full-time employees, urging them “...to take an extra few minutes to shop and spend money on the other side of the bridge” if local businesses do not show open support for the machine gun range.
At a time when the Army National Guard needs all the goodwill it can muster for an expensive, controversial project, it is difficult to imagine a more colossal public relations blunder.
Anyone who has been assigned to or lived near a military base knows the impact that base has on the local economy. That is why local merchants protest so vociferously when a base is shut down by the government; that shutdown has a major impact on their livelihoods. Gen. Faux also knows it, and in a shameful attempt to get what he wanted he tried to use that knowledge to bully local businesses.
Even more disturbing: Gen. Faux made his economic threat when most businesses are still reeling from the extensive economic damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The last thing any business needs to hear right now is that there is another threat to its already precarious position.
Gen. Faux’s threat amounted to a shakedown; it put pressure on businesses that don’t openly support the machine gun range to publicly go along with it, or suffer the consequences.
That stance is particularly baffling when one looks at the first line of the job description for the executive director on the JBCC website: “The primary roles of the Joint Base Cape Cod (JBCC) Executive Director are to ensure inter-agency communication and coordination and government and community stakeholders are informed and engaged.”
The community stakeholders here are definitely engaged, but when it comes to the machine gun range, they do not always feel they are informed. Chief among their concerns are the potential environmental threats posed by the proposed facility. Many feel those concerns are being ignored.
That’s why it was so disturbing when in that same email Gen. Faux also wrote that the Army National Guard has “scientifically proven without question that our project will not only have no impact on ground water quality but will positively impact listed species and their respective habitats. Yet the only folks that speak up are naysayers, activists and anti-military groups.”
The Army National Guard has already had a difficult time convincing the residents of Falmouth, Bourne, Mashpee, Sandwich and other Cape towns that it has their best interests at heart. Joint Base Cape Cod has been a Superfund site for years due to groundwater contamination. Concerned citizens have legitimate reasons to be skeptical; they’ve been burned before. Frustration is high and trust is low.
Yes, the process has been exasperating for the Guard, but attempting to browbeat local businesses into providing their support does nothing to help its cause. The general also has to consider that the businesses he threatened don’t agree with the idea of a machine gun range at Joint Base Cape Cod. If that’s the case, those businesses are doing the Guard a favor with their silence.
The good news is, Gen. Faux’s threat was stopped in its tracks by the very adjutant general he was taking his case to. Upon learning about the email, his superior officer “chewed me out,” Gen. Faux said. Gen. Faux also walked back his comments in his email—sort of—by saying they were not meant as a threat, but he could see how they could be taken that way: “I was just saying that we need support, but don’t remain silent. I wanted to demonstrate the impact we have on our community,” he said.
That’s all fine, but it’s not enough. Gen. Faux should attend municipal and community meetings where public officials and private citizens are voicing legitimate concerns about the machine gun range; they aren’t just “naysayers, activists and anti-military groups.” He needs to make himself available to the public and be willing to take any criticism that might come his way.
Doing so wouldn’t fully repair the damage that has been done, but it would be an important first step.