Tech Hosts Visit From Influential Congressman

SOCORRO, N.M. April 5, 2010 – New Mexico Tech hosted an historic visit from two Congressmen on March 30. Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi is the chairman of the Department of Homeland Security committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, which oversees funding and policy decisions for the agency that funds much of Tech’s anti-terrorism programs.

 Dr. John Meason (middle), the director of EMRTC, talks about Tech's anti-terrorism training programs with Congressman Bennie Thompson (left) and Ben Ray Lujan (right). Photo courtesy of EMRTC

Thompson and freshman Congressman Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico were treated to a brief presentation about Tech’s anti-terrorism training programs and then a tour of the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, complete with explosives demonstrations. The Congressmen were able to see Tech training programs in action, with first responders from around the country in field classes on Tech’s test range.

“This visit was very important for us,” university president Dr. Daniel H. Lopez said. “The Congressmen were able to witness our programs and see what kind of capabilities we have.”

Tech Vice President of Research Dr. Van Romero said Tech had an excellent opportunity to impress Congressman Thompson, who is one of the most influential lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

“This was an opportunity to showcase our capabilities to an important decision-maker in D.C. regarding Homeland Security. All you have to do is look at the headlines to see how important this work is,” Romero said. “A suicide bombing in Moscow on Monday and a rancher was killed near the border [with Mexico] on Saturday. It’s easy to become complacent when nothing happens for a few years, but the threat is always there.”

The Department of Homeland Security funded Tech with about $23 million annually for first-responder training programs in 2009. The university is hoping to expand the program’s offerings in coming years.

“This program is very important to us,” Lopez said. “This contract is our largest single contract we have on an annual basis. It’s very significant for us that Congressman Thompson would come to a state like New Mexico.”

Romero said thanks are due to Congressman Lujan, who was elected to his first term in Congress in 2008 and is a member of the Department of Homeland Security committee.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech