EGLIN AFB — Construction of a child care facility at Camp Simons, the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) headquarters, is a top priority for him as the federal government decides on the future appropriation of military construction dollars, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz says.
The facility is needed, Gaetz contends, because 7th Group families now must travel to the main campus of Eglin Air Force Base, in some cases 20 miles or more from their homes, to take advantage of the installation’s child care facilities.
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Technically headquartered at Eglin, the 7th Group’s Camp Simons is a little more than 20 miles from the installation’s main campus. Many 7th Group families live several miles farther north in Crestview, and getting to Eglin’s main campus can mean driving in heavy morning and evening rush-hour traffic along State Roads 85 and 123.
Delivering a keynote address at the recent Air Force Contracting Summit in Miramar Beach, Gaetz said 7th Group families spend too much time on the road to get their toddlers to and from Eglin’s child care facilities.
Traveling to and from the Crestview area and Eglin can take as long as an hour each way, consuming hours of what could be daily family time.
“This is really important,” Gaetz told the audience of contractors, economic development professionals and military personnel at the summit.
“Right now,” Gaetz continued, “the child care for toddlers for 7th Group is on main Eglin. That does not work, especially with just the nature of that (Special Forces) mission, the time of those deployments, the limited time people have when they‘re home and ... wanting to make the most of that time.”
Gaetz also contended that youngsters in 7th Group families “should be closer to their parents” than the main Eglin campus. Providing child care at Camp Simons would, Gaetz said, “support the military families who are every bit in this fight as much as those who are putting the uniform on.”
Several days ago, Gaetz, along with Florida Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, made a formal plea for U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to address the lack of child care facilities at the 7th Group compound, calling it “an urgent issue.”
They also argued to McCarthy that a lack of convenient child care is affecting the group’s readiness for missions, particularly in instances when 7th Group personnel themselves are responsible for getting their children to and from care.
“Members of the 7th SFG community have highlighted to us that the lack of child care facilities has greatly impacted readiness,” Gaetz and Florida’s two senators told McCarthy.
“When our operators are thinking about the strain on their families at home, rushing to and from child care, or sitting in traffic, they are not focused on the mission to engage and destroy the enemy,” they wrote.
Also in the letter, Gaetz, Scott and Rubio hint strongly that they will look at ways to get construction funding quickly into the U.S. military budget.
Earlier this week, the Department of Defense released its budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Currently for Florida, the military construction component of the 2021 fiscal year budget proposal does not list a child care facility at the 7th Group. However, construction funding proposals could change as the budget makes its way through Congress in the coming months.
“This nation’s elite warriors risk their lives in the name of freedom and democracy,” the three lawmakers told the Army secretary in their letter, adding, “we must ensure their families are taken care of.”