RALEIGH – The new cabinet-level Department of Military and Veterans Affairs officially dedicated its 100-year-old building today with Gov. Pat McCrory, Sec. Cornell Wilson and some of North Carolina’s veterans. The governor’s cabinet members were also on hand for the downtown ribbon-cutting ceremony, with plenty of “whoo-ha” and “Semper Fi” coming from the crowd on this 240th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.
“The Marine Corps birthday cake is an acquired taste,” joked N.C. Veteran’s Affair’s Director Illario Pantano. “It’s fifty pounds of beef, broken glass, and gasoline. So take your time with it.”
The new department will be housed in the historic 1860s Seaboard building that was at one time dedicated to Seaboard employees who fought in World War II. McCrory requested formation of the new top-level state agency and the General Assembly included it in the budget last session. The new secretary, retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Cornell Wilson, was sworn in last month. The move marks the latest in McCrory’s ongoing effort to improve and better coordinate the work of state government as it coordinates veteran benefits and the state’s seven U.S. military installations. North Carolina has the third largest military presence of any state in the country.
“We have a louder voice now, to make sure the military stays here in our state,” said Wilson, whose job will include lobbying at the federal level for North Carolina’s role in national defense readiness.
While military means about $3 billion to the state economy each year and more than 9 percent of North Carolinians are employed by the military and its surrounding industry, the state welcomes defense not just for a direct economic boost. The skilled veteran labor force is also a selling feature to attract more private and commercial employers to the state.
Recently, the governor and General Assembly worked to extend in-state tuition rates to servicemembers and veterans. Some of their military training was also approved for use in relevant certifications like truck driving and other fields.
Streamlining services for veterans and their families and helping communities with bases meet changing needs are top priorities for the new agency. Part of that will fall to the NC4VETS program, which helps veterans find jobs and apply for healthcare and education benefits.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, McCrory delivered a proclamation to Wilson declaring this week “Employ a Veteran Week.” As the first secretary of the N.C. Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs, Wilson takes the helm after 37 years of active-duty service. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of South Carolina and received his officer’s commission in 1972 after completing ROTC while in school.