Synergy is a word Colonel Gina Grosso uses often. She sees it as the key to the success of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and as the success of the relationship between a military base and the citizens and businesses of the towns and cities that surround it.

“This is a great place to have a military base,” she says. “We are surrounded by farmland, which gives us room to train, and we have a great relationship with the communities around us.”

Grosso will speak on the military’s economic impact in central New Jersey at the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, May 20, at 11:30 a.m. at the Scottish Rite Hall in Bordentown. Cost: $60. Visit www.mercerchamber.org.

As the commander of the joint base’s 87th Air Base Wing, Grosso provides installation support to more than 80 mission partners at McGuire, Dix, and Lakehurst. It is the Department of Defense’s first joint base and the only one that consolidates air force, army, and navy installations. She is also responsible for providing mission-ready expeditionary airmen to combatant commanders in support of joint and combined operations.

Grosso has links to the military and to New Jersey going back to childhood. She was born at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado and her father, a veteran of World War II, was decommissioned after the war at Fort Dix. She hadn’t planned on a military career, she says. She joined the air force in 1986 through ROTC at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she majored in applied mathematics and industrial management.

“I had planned on serving my four years and moving on, but I kept having these great opportunities, and here I am, 24 years later in a job that didn’t even exist when I started out,” she says.

She has held several command and staff positions during her career. She has served as an operations analyst, personnel programs analyst, as part of the staff for the Secretary of Defense, and as director of the Air Force Colonel Management Office. Her command tours include a headquarters squadron section, military personnel flight, mission support squadron, and command of the air force’s sole basic training group in Texas.

In 1992 she received an MBA from the College of William & Mary. She got a second master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval Command and Staff College in Newport, Rhode Island.

Strategic importance. When most of us think about the commercial advantages of this region, the major cities — the transportation links that include highways, trains, and several major ports — we rarely remember that these are also strategic military advantages to the area. We also rarely think about what this means to the military, both in strategic importance and in the need for protection.

While in the past there were quite a few military bases in the area, changes in staffing and the closing of dozens of military bases in the past few decades have made the joint base the most strategically placed to protect the area.

A symbiotic relationship. With 42,000 service personnel and non-military workers, the base is the largest employer in Burlington County and many employees also live in Mercer County. The communities and base support each other. While the communities gain needed tax dollars and local businesses gain customers, the base needs the communities’ services.

With only 2,000 employees and their families living on the base, it depends on the surrounding communities for many services. “Our employees live in the communities, they pay taxes there, they go to school there, they vote there, they do their shopping there,” says Grosso.

Mayor of the base. Grosso says her job is a lot like being the mayor of a town. “I oversee all of the infrastructure for our mission partners on the joint base,” she says. That includes public works and medical services as well as other services connected with the management of the base. She believes that while the consolidation has cost some money upfront, in the long term it will result in a great deal of cost savings.

The joint base has made many adjustments for the various military services that now work more closely together than ever. While Grosso understands that the consolidation plan was originally seen as a cost-saving measure she also sees that it has had an added and unexpected benefit.

“Each of our mission partners now has developed an intangible synergy with the others. This is particularly critical for the military in a time of two wars,” she says. “Even though we were located near each other in the past, the new joint base is not only more efficient, but our relationships with each other have been redefined. We see new ways of working together and of managing the combat training platform.”

In the same way the mission partners at the joint base are dependent on each other, the communities also are interdependent. “We can’t be combat-ready without the support of all of the people on the base. In the same way we also need the communities around us to thrive so that we can thrive. We are always thankful for the support we get from our communities.”

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