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Spence Campbell joins military affairs board

Spence Campbell, a retired U.S. Army colonel, serves on the state Advisory Commission on Military Affairs. Spence Campbell, a retired U.S. Army colonel, serves on the state Advisory Commission on Military Affairs.

A retired Army colonel and veteran of two tours of duty in Vietnam, Spence Campbell had seen the brass before. Even so, he was startled when he attended his first meeting as a member of the North Carolina Advisory Commission on Military Affairs.


"I walked into the room and there were at least a dozen colonels, captains and brigadier generals," he said. "They all had the same issues. They generally come down to working with local communities and making sure they maintain close relationships."
After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Campbell joined the Army and trained as a military intelligence officer. The Army sent him to Vietnam in 1967.
"My job as a brand new lieutenant going into the war was to work with the local people to find out where the bad guys were," he said.
Five years later, he returned to Vietnam as a captain to train infantry officers and local security forces in an area in the North Delta known as Elephant's Foot.
"That was an invasion route for the North Vietnamese Army so there was lots of bombing going on," he said. "The bad guys were firing mortars from Cambodia."
At $23.4 billion, the military accounts for 8 percent of North Carolina's economy and more than 416,000 direct or indirect jobs. Defense contracts worth $4.1 billion add jobs and income in 87 of 100 counties.
The state's big military bases, Fort Bragg, Seymour Johnson Air Force base and Camp Lejeune Marine base, are well known. But Campbell says there's no reason why the mountains can't look for opportunities to boost its economy through defense spending or military affairs.
"Promoting economic development and jobs for military people and former military people is a big thing," he said.
An executive order signed by Gov. Bev Perdue in August directed Cabinet agencies to designate a military affairs coordinator to make sure the agencies are communicating and cooperating with the military installations in the state. She directed the departments of Commerce, Environment and Natural Resources, Transportation and Public Safety to work with base commanders and the military affairs commission to "identify issues that could affect the compatibility of development with military installations and operations."
Campbell said he expects to learn more when the advisory board meets next month to adopt an updated strategic plan on the military and economic development. He hopes to work with community agency to maximize the potential for economic development related to military and V.A. spending. He's one of three appointees of House Speaker Tom Tillis.
"What we have is a huge retirement population, a huge veteran base and a V.A. hospital network," he said.