San Diego's role in national security

My favorite part about living in San Diego is that when I tell someone where I am from, the first comment is inevitably about the weather. And who can argue? A recent trip to D.C. reminded me just how gorgeous it is here. They often talk about the beaches; sometimes they say “Oh, Gaslamp, right?” or something about Comic-Con. These are the things our town is known for.

Having a good reputation for these things is wonderful, but it is strange to me that no one, not even in military or government circles, mentions what a huge national security economy we have in San Diego.

We have the U.S. border with Mexico. We have booming cybersecurity, innovation and biotech industries. We have the largest number of veterans transitioning out of service — 15,000 every year, with most staying here. And finally, we will soon have the largest military footprint in the country, thanks to the pivot to the Pacific. But no one talks about these parts of San Diego.

Well, we know better. We know that San Diego is a lynchpin to national security. We are a strategic outpost, about as far removed from the seat of national government as any place can be, but critical to our nation’s security.

We are leading the nation on innovation initiatives with such companies as Qualcomm, Sony, ESET, General Dynamics and more. We understand border and immigration issues because we are living them day in and day out, rather than hearing about them from D.C., Alaska or the Iowa Freedom Summit.

We know that our veterans are not damaged or broken, but rather valuable members of our community. We see that they are a vital part of our economy. We appreciate the tangible and intangible skills they learn from supporting and leading men and women into combat around the world, and our public leaders have worked to make sure that they can leverage those skills toward the myriad businesses that call San Diego home.

There is no other major city so integrated with military culture as ours. San Diego is the gold standard for military duty. Without fail, it ranks high on the Dream Sheet, a document military members use to tell leadership where they would like to be stationed.

The San Diego Military Advisory Council will tell you that the military industry accounts for 22 percent of San Diego’s GDP. With the pivot to Asia, that footprint is going to grow. San Diego is going to become ever more important to our nation’s ability to project power and defend our interests.

It’s time for San Diego to stop identifying as a sleepy beach town, because we are so much more. We are an important city — a global city. We boost continued American prosperity and we feed the global economy. We are truly America’s Innovation City.

Shawn VanDiver is a 12-year Navy veteran, faculty at three universities, and serves on several boards focused on human trafficking, national and international security, and emergency management. He is co-director of the Truman National Security Project San Diego Chapter. Follow Shawn VanDiver on Twitter @shawnjvandiver.

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