What does a Child Development Center (CDC) have to do with special operations and the 7th SFG? To quote Salahadin in the film the Kingdom of Heaven, “Nothing… everything.”
The 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) has been critically short of child care for its soldiers’ families for more than a decade at Camp Bull Simons, which is part of Eglin Air Force Base. The SF base is located north of Eglin and the commute can take nearly an hour in peak traffic. During high-tourist times and holidays, it is bumper-to-bumper for miles.
Congress authorized funding for a CDC on Eglin a few years ago, but that didn’t help the 7th SFG, 6th Ranger Training Bn, and EOD families living on the north side of the base. That rounds out to about 450 kids without base childcare.
Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth, and Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, asking for a solution.
The problem is compounded by the astronomical rise in the cost of housing in the surrounding area. Most enlisted and junior NCOs can’t afford to live close by and, as a result, live about an hour away. Further, the waiting list to get on-base childcare is at least two years long. This impacts unit readiness and creates an unnecessary hardship for families of warriors putting their lives on the line.
CBS’s outstanding investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge visited Camp Bull Simons not long ago and spoke with family members and the 7th SFG commander Colonel Kevin Trujillo. She found that many troops were leaving the service because the lack of childcare impacted their family lives.
“The number one issue when I talk to service members and their family is child care,” Trujillo told Herridge. “It’s just not a viable option to drive over an hour a day for childcare and then to repeat that process going home.
One woman told Herridge that she and her husband are both assigned to Camp Bull Simons and they frequently spend three hours a day coming and going to childcare while juggling an Army career.
I recently visited the SF base with Col. (Ret.) Stu Bradin who runs the Global SOF Foundation (GSOF), a professional association with about 4,500 members worldwide.
The Foundation is also advocating for the establishment of the CDC for 7th SFG. It held a virtual town hall with the SF families earlier this year and had more than 500 people registered for the talk. “The vignettes from the families were gut-wrenching, and I was frankly pissed off,” Bradin said after the event.
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Not everyone agrees
On October 10, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth announced plans “to build a new child development center (CDC) at Camp Bull Simons in FY 25 for our 7th Special Forces group families.”
But the Air Force keeps trying to stop this from happening, stating that Camp Bull Simons and the proposed CDC are within the 96th Test Wing’s active range that is used to test weapons and that therefore the location would carry an “unacceptable safety risk for children.”
Col. Trujillo finds that argument very inconsistent.
“How can this location be unsafe for children? We have 2,500 people assigned [in this location]. Nearly 300 live in the barracks. And there are civilian employees who work at the Shoppette, gas station, Subway, and at the Chapel,” Trujillo told Bradin and Sandboxx News.
Additionally, Highway 85, which is in the same location, cuts directly across Eglin, and civilian traffic there is as numerous as military. “How could the Air Force shut that down,” Trujillo asked. Further, families of the 6th Ranger Training Bn have been living at Camp Rudder, located near the SF base for about 50 years without it being considered a risk.
It is a question that defies description and leaves one to ponder why the Eglin AFB commander is so adamant about delaying this project. Col. Trujillo is at a loss, but it is something that he wants to see approved before his command time of the 7th SFG comes to an end early next year.
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He told Herridge that he has trailers that the unit could use as a temporary facility for the children next to the chapel once the CDC is okayed.
Trujillo added that the lack of a CDC affects unit readiness. “You know that their minds are not focused on the mission. And they’re not operating at an optimal level. If they’re worried about concerns with family or finances,” he said.
The Army and Air Force secretaries have identified the problem and now, they need to get the commander of Eglin AFB on board.
This is an easily fixable situation and highly-trained operators shouldn’t have to leave the Army because the government is forcing them to choose between their children and the service.
You can support the GSOF’s push to establish a Child Development Center for the 7th SFG by writing to your elected officials here.
Let’s help get these warriors the support they need. DOL
Feature Image: A little boy shoots “zombies” during the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Annual Truck or Treat at Camp “Bull” Simons, Fla., Oct. 28, 2022. (Photo by Pvt. Taylor Zacherl/7th SFG(A)
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