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The Naval Support Activity South Potomac Community Relations (COMREL) Council met May 13 in Colonial Beach, where military and community leaders discussed veterans affairs in Virginia, a regional partnership for enhanced unmanned aerial systems (UAS) testing, the Dahlgren Heritage Museum and the community planning.

Capt. Pete Nette, commanding officer of NSASP, greeted attendees and thanked Colonial Beach Mayor Mike Ham and the staff of High Tides Restaurant for hosting the meeting. The meeting was Nette’s final COMREL; he has orders for Norfolk in July.

“This outreach and partnership with the community has been very important,” he said. “The relationships that we’ve established before and during my tour have been very beneficial. I think out of all the commanding officers in my region, I probably have the most fun and part of that is community that surrounds our installations. I want to thank you for the ability to engage with you on a personel level.”

Nette briefed the council on several events at Naval Support Facilities Dahlgren and Indian Head, including a hurricane preparation exercise, mutual aid between the installations and the community, traffic changes around the main gate at Dahlgren, the annual Bring Your Child to Work Day event and the ongoing construction of a Dominion Virginia Power transmission line. Nette also told the COMREL about constructed wetland projects at Dahlgren that, when completed later this year, will prevent storm water runoff from entering local waters.

Before Nette left the podium, he presented Charlie Armstrong, vice president of operations for NSWC Federal Credit Union, with the NSASP American Patriot Award for the “overwhelming” support he and his organization provide to Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs on base. Since 2005, NSWC Federal Credit Union has generously provided more than $160,000, funds that have supported service members, military families and events too numerous to list.

“It there’s an event or cause out in the community, Charlie is likely to be there and he does it because he cares,” said Nette. “We truly appreciate it.”

“We want to give back to our community,” said Armstrong after the meeting concluded. “It’s a fun part of my job.”

Virginia Veterans and Defense Affairs

John Newby, deputy secretary of Virginia Veterans and Defense Affairs, briefed the COMREL about changes in his organization since the inauguration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe earlier this year. The newly-named secretariat reflects organizational changes in recent state legislation; previously, the secretariat was Virginia Military Affairs and Homeland Security.

The purpose of the name change, said Newby, is to not only emphasize his organization’s ongoing commitment to veterans, but to maintain and enhance the military presence in the Commonwealth. “I’m really glad to have the opportunity to work with [military installations] and the communities to keep those activities here,” he said. “We want to keep that strong-that is our goal and mission.”

Newby told the COMREL that the reorganization gives Veterans and Defense Affairs more flexibility to prepare for potential budget actions that may result from ongoing fiscal uncertainty at the Department of Defense.

Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP)

Nelson Mills, senior engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), briefed the COMREL about the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent integration of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into the National Airspace of Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey, along with five other sites across the nation. The Mid-Atlantic UAS Test Site is led by Virginia Tech and Rutgers University.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 allows for increased UAS research and development in the six designated areas, announced by the FAA in April. The FAA’s decision was preceded by months of campaigning on the part of several state and academic entities. NSWCDD was a supporting agency in that process, lending its experience and expertise to ensure safe, productive UAS test operations.

The MAAP itself is comprised of diverse partners, including academia, industry and government. “The idea is to develop safe, responsive and economical business [in the region] with UAS,” said Mills. “It’s quite an opportunity for the area.”

Virginia Tech and the MAAP are currently assessing sites in several localities in Virginia for potential UAS runways. “We’re looking at a walk-before-you-run type of approach,” said Mills. “We want to get community support and mitigate any risk there is.”

Dahlgren Heritage Museum Update

Dr. Robert Gates, president of the Dahlgren Heritage Foundation, talked to the COMREL about the progress of his organization as it seeks to tell the story of Dahlgren. Navy History and Heritage Command underwent changes as the effort to establish a museum in Dahlgren began three years ago. Chief among the changes, said Gates, was that the Navy restricted the amount of funding it provided its museums.

The Dahlgren Heritage Foundation and its many volunteers overcame those fiscal obstacles, however, officially opening the Dahlgren Heritage Museum last October as the installation celebrated its 95th anniversary.

The foundation is currently working with NSWCDD to include more Dahlgren artifacts in its exhibits. In addition to telling Dahlgren’s story, the foundation also participates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) outreach. “We’ve taken the lead with the STEM 16 group with the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce,” said Gates. “We’re trying to expand STEM activities in King George County.”

All of the good things the Dahlgren Heritage Foundation does for the base and community are made possible by donations and grants from its members and local businesses. It is also currently seeking volunteers. For more information about the Dahlgren Heritage Foundation, visit www.dahlgrenmuseum.org.

Encroachment Partnering/Buffering

William Rau, NSASP community planning liaison officer (CPLO), and Steve Duboyce, regional CPLO, briefed the COMREL about Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI), a cost-sharing partnership between the Navy, communities and conservation groups to promote environmental stewardship while maintaining the ability of the military bases to accomplish missions.

An obstacle to compatible land use is encroachment, which the Navy defines as a non-Navy action that impedes its ability to conduct Navy activities. REPI is a land acquisition authority that can alleviate encroachment by purchasing land adjacent to military installations and establishing buffer zones. The buffer zones not only allow the military to conduct its activities unimpeded, but also preserve environmental habitat and local character. Participation in the program is entirely voluntary.

“REPI is here to help us deal with increasing competition for land, airspace and water,” said Rau. “It’s a win-win. Some of the benefits of REPI are enhanced military readiness and protecting valuable habitat and open space. REPI also forges partnerships with local, state and federal agencies, local communities and local conservation groups.”

For more information about REPI, visit www.repi.mil.