Saturday, July 18, 2009

Noise at Camp Bullis is the sound of freedom to its neighbors

The woman on the phone was venting her anger with me. It was 1982. I was stationed at Bergstrom AFB, Texas, and her infant daughter couldn't sleep because RF-4Cs were buzzing her house.

With the growing news coverage about Camp Bullis and its issue with new developments near it, I thought of the many phone calls that our public affairs office got that year (including one from Willie Nelson complaining because he couldn't hear his soaps) as residential areas began to encroach under the base's flying patterns. Like most other air bases, Bergstrom was built 7 miles outside of town during World War II to allow the aircraft assigned to the base to fly over ranches and other uninhabitated area.

Then progress took over.

Slowly, the developers saw a four-land state road with the opportunity to build close to Bergstrom's flight path. As a junior enlisted member, I was never privy to the discussions that our public affairs officers and my commanders had with the community.

Yet, I am sure it went something like this: "We built the base far enough away from the nearest residential area to protect our local community from a possible aircraft accident or noise. Please don't enact a zoning change that will allow the construction of new homes near our base."

Now, Camp Bullis is facing the same issues that we tackled at Bergstrom. Austin city officials zones residential areas close to the base even though the Air Force argued against their development.

Military public affairs professionals create an environment where we encourage our military and civilian staffers to become good citizens. As a group, we do not contribute to election funds for our mayor or city council. When an issue like noise or environmental issues such as the migratory warbler impact our training, we present our story to our local elected officials for help.

In Bergstrom's case, there wasn't an ordinance requiring realtors to inform home buyers of the noise. After answering all those calls at lunch when our office secretary went to class, I secretly wondered why someone who purchased a home didn't do a little research about how much noise came from an RF-4C as it pulled its brakes to land on the runway.

As the woman with the cranky baby said: "My realtor didn't tell me about the noise."

From reading the comments in today's newspaper, especially the one concerning statutory property rights, I believe it's time that we make it mandatory for anyone buying a home close to Camp Bullis to note their close proximity to the base. Because most people purchase a home on a Saturday or Sunday, they won't hear the guns or explosions from the base that regularly occur during the work week.

So, I believe it's only ethical that realtors who sell homes close to Camp Bullis have to disclose the noise issue. While it will make the homes in the area lose some property value, it will also help our city keep the growing medical training mission in San Antonio.

This medical training mission has a billion dollar economic impact on our community as more training cadre and students will come to our city. For our city to lose this military mission because of complaints about noise near Camp Bullis is something not worth the cost of the development near the base. And, it's definitely worthy of some changes in the zoning law and the need to tell Camp Bullis' neighbors that if guns go off at 10 p.m. that it's as an old Air Force RF-4C commander would term "the sound of freedom."

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