Sen. Mike Cunningham’s Legislative Column for Oct. 29, 2020

Legislative Column for October 29, 2020

Every year, on Nov. 11, the nation pauses to honor all Americans who have served honorably in the United States Armed Forces. As a former military policeman who served in the U.S. Army in the late 1960s, Veterans Day is especially meaningful to me. I appreciate the recognition bestowed on our veterans each year and believe it serves our nation well to take a moment to express our thanks.

Although military service was once common in the United States, today only about 7 percent of Americans have ever worn a uniform. Consequently, I worry many of our citizens – especially our young people – have little appreciation for the sacrifice made by veterans. America has another holiday (Memorial Day) to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but Veterans Day, which commemorates the signing of the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, reminds us of the contributions made by every man or woman who ever served our military.

Still, during my years as an elected official, I have sometimes found it difficult to convey the importance of the military to those who have not served. Sure, all us know America’s military defends the nation overseas, but we don’t always appreciate the impact the military has here at home. Perhaps a new report highlighting the real-world dollars and cents economic contributions of the military in Missouri will express some of the value of military service when patriotism and national pride aren’t enough.

Released in August, “A Study of the Economic Impacts of Military Spending and Operations in Missouri” details the $29 billion impact defense spending has on our state’s economy. Based on 2018 statistics, this is the fourth study to look at the total contribution of military dollars in Missouri. The study, created for the office of the Missouri Military Advocate, found defense spending accounted for 6% of Missouri’s total domestic product and resulted in more than 180,000 direct and indirect jobs. You can read the report online at

In total dollars, the greatest impact from military spending in Missouri comes from industries and agencies that support our nation’s defense. The clear leader is the aerospace industry, most notably Boeing in St. Louis. Nearly two-thirds of military spending in Missouri is devoted to aircraft contracts. Although there was some fear this economic engine would falter, new and renewed contracts assure continued success for years to come. Another bright spot is the announcement that the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency will build an entirely new $1.75 billion complex in St. Louis. There’s also increased investment in the Kansas City area.

Turning to men and women in uniform, Missouri is home to two major installations – Whiteman Air Force Base and the U.S. Army’s Fort Leonard Wood – as well as a number of smaller facilities, such as the Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in St. Joseph and numerous Guard and Reserve facilities. Whiteman AFB, located in Johnson County, is best known as the home of the B-2 bomber. In 2018, the installation spurred 7,400 direct jobs and contributed nearly a half-billion dollars to the state’s economy. Fort Leonard Wood, in Pulaski County, is a joint-service training facility that hosts 80,000 military personnel and civilians each year. By far the single-largest economic driver in the central-southern Missouri region, the facility contributes more than $2 billion to the state’s bottom line.

Often overlooked when discussing the impact of military facilities is their contribution to local education. In 2018, Missouri school districts received more than $26 million from the Department of Defense, mostly to fund elementary and secondary schools primarily serving military families near large installations. The total economic impact of these payments resulted in nearly $50 million in economic output, including more than 580 jobs.

The Missouri National Guard (both Army and Air) is also a major contributor to local economies. These units, including the 1142nd Engineering Company in West Plains and the Doniphan detachment of the 1137th Military Police Company, employ local residents and spend money in the communities where they’re located. Statewide, the Guard spent more than $620 million on payroll alone in 2018.  Likewise, payroll and activities related to the U.S. Army Reserves added another $328 million in direct and indirect spending to Missouri’s economy.

Typically, Veterans Day brings to mind veterans who have left active military service. Although these men and women no longer wear a uniform, they also contribute mightily to the state’s economy. More than 39,000 Missourians currently receive military retirement benefits, totaling an estimated $860 million in 2018.

Again, as a proud veteran, I would hope the dedication and sacrifices of America’s past and present military members would be enough to cause non-veterans to appreciate those who have worn a uniform. I understand, though, that in this day and age, people tend to think first of their own interests. This recent report provides a powerful reminder of the benefits our state receives from the military and the men and women in uniform. I hope all of us will think of these contributions on Veterans Day, and I encourage everyone to thank the veterans in your life for their service.

It is my great honor to represent the citizens of the 33rd Senatorial District. Although the Legislature has adjourned for 2020, I remain your senator throughout the year. If there’s anything that I can do to assist you, please feel free to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.