By Carol Comengo
Courier-Post Staff
April 26, 2010

Jim Saxton never envisioned the two military bases in Burlington County would be on a military base closure list.

When that happened twice from 1989 and 1993, former congressman Saxton of Mount Holly employed trench warfare and spearheaded efforts that helped save Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base and later suggested they be combined into a mega base with Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station in Ocean County.

The result was the newly formed Joint Base McGuire- Dix-Lakehurst — the first tri-service base in the U.S. — as well as privatization of new housing for military families there and at other surviving bases nationwide.

On Thursday, the base and United Communities of Marlton, the developer of more than 2,000 units of new and rehabilitated housing at the joint base, dedicated its first community center in the new housing area and named it after Saxton.

“Welcome to what I call Joint Base Saxton. Without the efforts of Congressman Saxton, we would not be here today,” said Richard Haydinger, director of United Communities. He addressed a crowd of nearly 100 at the new Jim Saxton Community Center at 38 Bowling Boulevard in the Falcon Courts North Housing Area, adjacent to McGuire.

A humble Saxton said he was “heartwarmed” when he unveiled a plaque in his honor outlining accomplishments of his 25-year career in Congress as a moderate Republican representing the 3rd Congressional District.

“I get a lot of credit for this (joint base), but it was totally a team effort,” Saxton said. “When a lot of people all work together, things happen.”

He said the team included generals in charge of McGuire and Dix at that time, the Burlington County Military Affairs Committee, his staff, the county board of freeholders, former Gov. Christie Whitman and volunteers.

Saxton said that if Fort Dix commander Gen. Jim Wurman had not suggested to him that Dix should transition from an Army base to a reserve base and i f McGuire commander George Gray had not told him McGuire should be saved instead of Plattsburgh, N.Y., because of jet fuel delivery concerns in New York, he would not have raised those issues before the base closure commission.

Families of all five military services living in the new and rehabilitated housing both on the McGuire and Fort Dix sides of the base are eligible to use the 4 ,800-square-foot community center for group and family functions. Among its amenities are a fitness center, a room with lounge for meetings, a large kitchen and a playground.

Haydinger said a second center will be built on the Fort Dix side in Garden Terrace.

Ashley Doucette, whose husband, John, is a sergeant in helicopter maintenance in the Marine Corps, lives in a four-unit residence. The multifamily house is only a five-minute walk from the community center and she loves its fitness Advertisement center with child care playroom.

“The center is amazing,” the 24-year-old said, adding the facility also has a computer lab that allows users to video chat with “your husband when he is deployed.”

Danyelle Bender, 25, already attended an event at the center when it recently opened — an annual bingo night sponsored by the McGuire Officer Spouses Club.

“Everybody fit and we could even have food. It was great,” said Bender, whose husband is stationed on the base with the Atlantic Strike Team of the Coast Guard.

Of the housing, she said she likes it spaciousness.

For Navy Chief William Jarrell, his four-bedroom home is a great improvement over prior military housing and that the development offers pools, playgrounds and is well laid out.

“When I joined 20 years ago, the housing was definitely substandard and poorly maintained,” he said.

Sgt. Doucette summed up the feeling of many others.

“It’s better than anywhere we’ve been so far,” he said.

Reach Carol Comegno at (609) 267-9486 or