Wright-Patterson’s outgoing commander said it will be important for the military base and surrounding communities to work together to maintain safe drinking water in the Miami Valley.
Col. Bradley McDonald — base commander for two years at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base— caps his 24-year-career in the Air Force on June 19 when he steps down as installation leader. Col. Thomas P. Sherman, a six-time military commander with expertise in base security and currently stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., has been selected as successor.
“The focus I’ve had here from a leadership perspective is the concept of respect, relationships and results, and I believe that the most important thing that we have done in our tenure is to focus on that respect and relationships and the results have naturally followed,” McDonald said in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News.
The leader of the largest single-site employer in Ohio has much the same duties as a mayor: Handling budget uncertainty, dealing with concerns about groundwater contamination, and public security.
McDonald and area mayors and municipal leaders have met monthly for the past two year to discuss common concerns and the water problems facing both.
“We are inextricably linked,” he said. “There’s no separation between Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Miami Valley.”
In the most public and biggest issue McDonald faced, the city of Dayton urged surrounding communities to press the Air Force to do more to prevent the threat of groundwater contamination — believed to be derived from contaminants found in firefighting foam — migrating off Wright-Patterson and potentially tainting city drinking water supplies.
Dayton also asked the Air Force to reimburse the city nearly $1 million paid out-of-pocket to track the contamination.
State and local leaders say the water is safe to drink. The contaminants have not been detected in treated drinking water supplies, they added.
“That’s the most important thing,” McDonald said. “The second item is that we have a common interest in making sure the water remains safe moving forward.”
The city shut down seven drinking water wells at the Huffman Dam well field as a precaution and quietly shut five additional wells at Tait’s Hill near the city’s firefighter training site along the Mad River.
The base installed a $2.7 million water treatment system to reopen two production wells that had been closed on Wright-Patterson because they exceeded EPA guidelines.
An old firefighting foam formula sprayed at both the base and the city’s firefighter training site on McLeod Avenue off Springfield Street contained perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also found in everyday products from carpet to cookware, and a potential carcinogenic, researchers say.
McDonald said federal, state and local agencies have worked together on the issue, and the base is “open and transparent” with the information, he said. The base has a network of monitoring wells to track contamination.
“Whether we’re talking about the Ohio EPA, the city of Dayton, whether we’re talking more about our congressional delegation, all of those entities are the right people to be at the table to make sure that we maintain the safe drinking water in the Miami Valley.”
Wright-Patterson has more than 27,000 civilian employees and military personnel on the sprawling facility, a $2.2 billion payroll and an economic engine with more than an estimated $4 billion yearly economic impact in the region.
During his term, McDonald faced the uncertainty of months-long delays of when Congress will pass a budget in recent years, with short-term stopgap spending measures that capped spending at prior year’s levels, delayed programs and threatened partial government shutdowns. The biggest five years ago sent thousands of Wright-Patterson civil service workers home for several days, but they were eventually reimbursed for the missed time.
“In any business or organization, an ability to understand the projected budgets allow you to effectively and efficiently plan to accomplish the things that you ask for,” he said.
“Certainly, budget stability is something that is very valuable and less CRs and approved budgets earlier in the cycle are things that any manager would appreciate as they go out to accomplish their mission,” he said.
McDonald, 45, a marathon runner and tri-athlete, has not said what course he will take next when he and his family move to Idaho.
But the Air Force Academy and Air Force Institute of Technology graduate won’t stay retired, he said.
“I have too much drive to let this go and I’m actually struggling with this word retirement,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities coming forward and in due time we’ll figure out the right opportunity where we can make the best and most impactful difference for our community and our fellow Idahoans.”
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WRIGHT-PATT AT A GLANCE
Wright-Patterson is the Ohio’s largest single-site employer. Here’s a quick look at some facts about the sprawling base:
Employees: More than 27,000
Units: More than 100
Economic impact: More than $4 billion regionally
Major commands: Air Force Materiel Command; Air Force Research Laboratory; National Air and Space Intelligence Center; National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
New leadership: Col. Bradley McDonald, current installation commander, will end a two-year tour of duty next week and Col. Thomas P. Sherman will take command of the 88th Air Base Wing on June 19.