By Tom Still

MADISON – Gov. Jim Doyle’s effort to keep Wisconsin’s five military installations off the Pentagon’s closure list deserves a crisp salute – and not just because those bases bring nearly $850 million per year to the Wisconsin economy. Wisconsin is a hidden fortress of ideas and materials to be used in the ongoing war against terrorism; those assets should come to the attention of national security policymakers.

Doyle toured state military bases last week in preparation for a report to the U.S. Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closing Commission, which is likely to recommend closing some U.S. bases in time. A report is due to the White House by September 2005.

As commander-in-chief of the Wisconsin National Guard, Doyle has hired the consulting firm of Mead & Hunt to help write the report. It is likely to conclude, as Doyle said last week, that Ft. McCoy near Sparta and Volk Field in Juneau County are essential to the military’s long-term training and deployment plan. Also, the 440th Airlift Wing in Milwaukee, the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee, and the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison offer strategic support that can be rapidly mustered, whether the need is in Europe, Asia or closer to home.

The Pentagon’s base closing exercise also offers Wisconsin a chance to dispel the myth that it’s somehow “anti-military” or has little to offer to the national defense.

Certain to emerge in the report is the fact that Wisconsin provides thousands of National Guard and Reserve members, including about 2,500 who are now on active duty.

Wisconsin is also building momentum as a supplier of defense-related goods and services, with total contracts approaching $1 billion and 2,500 or 22,000 state companies registered to do business with the federal government.

Less recognized is how well the state’s research and development strengths match up with the needs of the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies engaged in the war against terrorism.

Congress now finds itself in an evolving next stage of homeland security, and the 50 states, research institutions and technology-based private industry all have significant roles to play.  The federal “shopping list” is focused in four areas:

ユ Prevention:  Biometrics, vaccines, intelligent systems, composites, food and water safety, vector-borne diseases, explosion detection and cargo screening systems are examples.
ユ Detection:  Bio and radiation sensors and training.
ユ Reaction:  Emergency Medical Service equipment, mass data storage, communications and computer modeling.
ユ Recovery:  Biomediation and decontamination.

Wisconsin research institutions and companies offer core competencies in most of these areas. For example, research institutes at UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee and UW-La Crosse are well-positioned to address water supply security. Health and biomedical research facilities such as the Marshfield Clinic, UW Medical School and the Medical College of Wisconsin are leaders in biometrics, vaccines, food and water safety and vector-borne diseases. The Marshfield Clinic, for example, was the first to isolate monkeypox. Two Wisconsin companies were the first to develop tests for the SARS virus.

Medical equipment providers and companies with information technology and large-scale data storage capabilities are strongly represented in Wisconsin. GE Health Care (formerly GE Medical Systems), with about 8,000 employees in Wisconsin, is a world leader in imaging and related technologies. Logistics Health in La Crosse is already a prime Defense contractor. Epic Systems in Madison is a national leader in electronic medical records.

The state has a long history in the development and use of composite technologies. Wisconsin is home to the Great Lakes Composite Consortium, and its engineering schools are leaders in composite research. Nanotechnology research is also growing in importance, with the UW-Madison recently adding four nationally renowned professors and hosting regional conferences. Through the UW-Madison e-Business Consortium, Wisconsin also has a prominent industry research collaborative in Radio Frequency Identification technologies.

In addition to strategically located military bases, Wisconsin has the people, the companies and the research base necessary to help protect the nation. Perhaps the Defense Department’s base-closing survey will disclose the fact that “Fort Wisconsin” offers safe refuge in these trying times.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.