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The U.S. spends far more than any other country in the world on its military.
And at the Republican National Convention, the North Carolina Republican Party proudly announced that the Tar Heel State, more than any other, is a reflection of those policies.
"The land of the longleaf pine, the land where the summer sun doth shine, where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great," said N.C. delegate John Steward, introducing the state during roll call. "North Carolina, home of the largest military installations in the world."
True or not, a claim about military bases pales in comparison to getting your own state capital wrong, like the Nevada delegation did. But still, we were intrigued. Does North Carolina really have the world’s largest military installations?
We’ll narrow this claim down to just the largest U.S. bases in the world. It’s impossible to accurately verify how large various Chinese, Indian, Russian and North Korean bases (the only countries with militaries comparable in size to the U.S.) might be.
What does it mean to be the largest military base?
Biggest land area? Most air space? Most active-duty military members? Largest population in total? The most buildings and square footage? The most expensive facilities? Those are all good indicators, although we’ll give the most weight to a base’s geographic size and, especially, its military population.
For data on physical size and cost, we relied on a 2009 report the Department of Defense compiled on its sprawling infrastructure.
The U.S. has the world’s largest military footprint, with hundreds of bases spanning the globe from Asia to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America.
So where does North Carolina stack up?
Two North Carolina bases are among the largest in their respective branches in terms of military population, as well as facility value – the Army’s Fort Bragg and the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune. However both of them are dwarfed, in area, by other bases out West.
Still, we’re more concerned with military strength than with area, so that’s pretty convincing.
But are North Carolina’s the absolute largest, or just among the biggest?
Fort Bragg in Fayetteville is home to the 82nd Airborne and a host of other units ranging from intelligence to artillery. People there are fond of saying it has more generals than anywhere but the Pentagon, but that’s a fact check for another day. We just want to know how big it is.
At about 153,000 acres, it trails Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Benning in Georgia. And all of them are puny compared to the 900,000-acre Fort Wainwright in Alaska.
But Bragg’s population is the largest of any base in any branch of the military – not just the Army. Back in 2010, PolitiFact looked into a claim by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who said Hood was the biggest. He got a Half True because some days Bragg had more people, and other days Hood did.
But as the war on terror has gone on, special forces are more in vogue, and Fort Bragg is where many of those units are based. As of 2015 it was substantially larger than Fort Hood.
It’s also possible that some soldiers at Bragg might not be included in official counts, since even their units’ names are sometimes kept secret. Bragg is home to the Joint Special Operations Command, in which Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force and other secretive groups often team up with CIA operatives for sensitive missions. A small airfield in nearby Johnston County was likely once a major piece of the CIA’s "extraordinary rendition" program.
Bragg’s entire population of soldiers and civilians is about 140,000 people. If it were a city, it would be one of the largest in North Carolina.
So North Carolina has America’s largest single military installation. But the roll call statement said it has the world’s largest installations, plural. So let’s keep looking.
North Carolina’s second-biggest base is the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune. Is it also the country’s second-biggest?
No. In fact, it’s not even the biggest Marine Corps base. The largest, in terms of area and population, are both in California. Twentynine Palms has a relatively small population but covers 650,000 acres, and Camp Pendleton has more Marines than Lejeune – although that hasn’t always been the case.
Lejeune had more Marines in 2008, with about 48,000 compared to 42,000 at Pendleton. But by 2013, according to Marine Corps reports, Pendleton has risen to 46,000, compared to 41,000 at Lejeune.
And what about the other branches of the military?
The Air Force and Coast Guard have some medium-sized bases in North Carolina, but Air Force bases in Nevada and Florida are significantly larger, and the Coast Guard only says its Elizabeth City base is is "one of the busiest" and even then, just in terms of air operations.
The N.C. GOP introduced itself at the Republican National Convention as hailing from the state with "the largest military installations in the world."
North Carolina does have Fort Bragg, which has more active-duty troops than any base in the Army – or any other branch of the military, for that matter. Camp Lejeune is also large, although it’s not the biggest Marine Corps base anymore. In terms of physical size, none of the state’s bases are even close to the biggest. And its Air Force and Navy bases don’t stack up in any category of largeness.
A little bit of bluster is to be expected during roll call statements, which are often filled with local pride. But North Carolina’s, while exaggerated, has definite merit – due in large part to Fort Bragg. We rate this claim Mostly True.
The Charlotte Observer, July 19, 2016, video of North Carolina roll call vote during Republican convention
Killeen Daily Herald, Jan. 15, 2015, "Fort Hood could face troop cuts in coming year"
Fayetteville Observer, Aug. 20, 2015, "Fort Bragg to see small decline in population over next few years, officials say"
PolitiFact, Nov. 15, 2010, "Sen. John Cornyn says that Fort Hood is the largest military installation in the world"
Department of Defense base structure report, FY 2009 baseline
Marine Corps Installations West, 2013 economic impact report
Marine Corps Installations East, 2013 economic impact report
Phone interview with Camp Lejeune public information office
Fort Bragg FAQ
The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 16, 2015, "Report: Navy's economic impact in Hampton Roads nears $10 billion"
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