Media Alert: Regional elected officials and business leaders to visit D.C. on behalf of Fort Polk Progress

WASHINGTON D.C.-- Regional officials are gearing up to meet with national leaders and Pentagon personnel in Washington D.C. April 22-23 in the hopes of keeping civilian and troop strength strong at Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center.

Fort Polk Progress Chairman Michael Reese said regional elected officials and business leaders will once again make their case to decision makers that Fort Polk and the state of Louisiana cannot bear to withstand the proposed 6,500 troop and civilian reduction at the U.S. Army installation. He said Fort Polk instead offers the best value to the Army in terms of cost, training quality and community support.

His goal, he said, is to make sure decision makers have all the proper facts concerning impacts to the region and are made aware of the advantages of Fort Polk and its premier training center, the JRTC.

"The value of the training center at Fort Polk is widely understood, as is the tremendous level of support from around the state of Louisiana," Reese said. "It is important that we continue to articulate the key advantages to the military of having a deployable combat brigade co-located with the Army's premier training center."

Regional elected and business leaders from SWLA and Cenla will further reinforce to decision makers how such a reduction would have devastating effects on the culture of local communities and their economies. Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center is an economic giant in the state, adding some $1.7 billion dollars to the state economy each year and is the largest non-state employer in all of Louisiana.

The trip is on the heels of last month's Community Listening Session, which united Cenla and SWLA with Leesville and DeRidder in concurrent events. The events demonstrated significant regional support for Fort Polk and a unified stance against the proposed 6,500 reduction prompted by sequestration-led budget cuts.

Reese added that the region has also made significant gains in its Education Initiative, a set of goals created by community stakeholders, teachers and parents to improve the academic experience for military and civilian students. Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno has previously said publicly that the quality of schools would be a key factor in deciding how the Army will choose to make its force structure reductions.

DeRidder Mayor Ron Roberts has called Fort Polk "the economic engine" of the region, and said that the communities around the installation have done much to improve quality of life in the area, particularly their efforts to provide quality education. Both Beauregard and Vernon parish schools have been recognized for outstanding education programs, with Beauregard recently reporting a graduation rate of 93.2 percent.

"We have spent the last nine years improving the quality of life for the people who come to Fort Polk and we continue to do this," he said.

Roberts said DeRidder has built three new parks, brought college classes to the city and are on the verge of completing a new swimming facility and soccer complex.

Leesville and Vernon Parish have made significant improvements to local amenities in recent years as well, including the new South Polk Elementary, a state-of-the-art facility, currently being constructed just off post.

"I'm excited to be a part of this trip to Washington D.C. with Fort Polk Progress on behalf of the City of Leesville," Allen said. "Fort Polk has been an integral part of the fabric of Leesville for many, many years, producing in our community a level of commitment to the Army, the base, and our soldiers and families that is unmatched anywhere in the nation."

He added that cutting troop strength at Fort Polk would erode improvements made by the region, and that budgets should not dictate the way the Army operates.

"I'm also convinced that our congressional leaders in Washington can find solutions to our nation's budget woes other than making further cuts to the Department of Defense, and I want to help provide our Louisiana delegates the support they need to help create a budget that works," Allen said.

Vernon Parish President James Tuck said he hopes the trip will help stress to national leaders the importance of Fort Polk and the advantages it holds over other installations.

"Fort Polk is not only important to our region, but it is important to our national security being that it is the premier training base of the army," said Tuck. "Not to mention that the cost of living here and cost of training troops is a lot cheaper here than other Army bases. This community supports Fort Polk and we're the only active land purchasing program in the Army. We just need to make sure that Congress and the Pentagon realizes this."

Roberts agreed and said Fort Polk is part of region's culture, and its training capabilities should not be ignored.

"Fort Polk has fulfilled its mission as a part of our national defense for over 75 years," Roberts said. "It has done well and we look forward to another 75 years of being essential to our military role in protecting our country."

Avon Knowlton, Executive Vice President of SWLA Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance said Fort Polk offers the best training for soldiers at the best cost to the cash-strapped Army.

"Fort Polk is the most cost efficient premier training facility capable of expansion," said Knowlton. "We are looking forward to further engaging the Army on the importance of Fort Polk, its relationship with the local communities and state and the many un-matched opportunities that the base offers."

Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said the city is keenly aware of the installation's "geographic uniqueness and how it translates into a sustained, strong economy throughout the region."

"With Fort Polk being the number one non-state government employer in Louisiana, a troop reduction would do nothing but cause a ripple effect throughout the state, the region and the City of Lake Charles," he said. "This area plays home to many social, recreational and professional services utilized by Fort Polk, and Fort Polk plays home to many military and veterans services utilized by our local residents."

Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce Deborah Randolph said the impact of Fort Polk extends beyond Vernon Parish and force structure reductions at the installation would have significant effects for real businesses and families in Cenla.

"A reduction of half of the troop strength at Fort Polk would have a negative impact not only on Vernon Parish, but all of central Louisiana, including the Alexandria-Pineville metro area," said Randolph. "We are committed to working as partners with Fort Polk Progress, including taking trips to Washington to make the case for retaining the troop strength and placing Fort Polk on a path for future growth."

Fort Polk Progress and regional representatives will meet with Reps. Steve Scalise, John Fleming, Ralph Abraham, Garret Graves, Charles Boustany Jr. and. Cedric Richmond and Sens. David Vitter and Bill Cassidy.

Sen. Cassidy highlighted Fort Polk's essential role in both the state and the country at large.

"For generations, Fort Polk has been home to our service men and women. The community surrounding Fort Polk have welcomed Fort Polk's growth, working hard to improve schools and infrastructure to support Fort Polk's mission," Cassidy said. "Fort Polk's existence is essential to training our service men and women to defend our country. It is also the only Army installation growing in land size, one of the few installations that will require no new military construction funding to accommodate an additional 1,000 soldiers. Louisiana is blessed that so many of our troops and their families call our great state home. We must continue to support the U.S. Army, as the U.S. Army defends our country. Our nation's defense must always be a top priority."

Rep. Boustany (R-South Louisiana), who visited the installation last November, highlighted Fort Polk's training capabilities for soldiers as essential to the nation's efforts in the Global War on Terror.

"Cutting our troop levels at important training facilities like Fort Polk precisely when global threats like ISIS and Vladimir Putin are on the rise is short-sighted policy," Boustany said. "I am so proud of the tremendous work Fort Polk Progress has undertaken and look forward to partnering with them to stop these cuts and allow Fort Polk to continue to operate at peak capacity."

Rep. Fleming said force reductions are a political maneuver that the nation simply cannot afford.

"The Obama Administration's radical reduction of our military capability threatens our ability to defend ourselves," he said. "I have been working with the Fort Polk community to put a freeze on force reductions. I look forward to making the case to senior Army leadership about the unique value of Fort Polk in training our military."

Rep. Abraham (R-Alto) described Fort Polk as a crucial part of Louisiana.

"Fort Polk plays a vital role not only to the economic health of Central Louisiana but also to the security of our nation," he said. "I look forward to meeting with representatives from Fort Polk Progress as we work together to ensure that this base remains a priority to the Army for many years to come."

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans), also signified his support of Fort Polk.

"Louisiana has a proud history of being home to some of our nation's most important military assets and Fort Polk continues that tradition," Richmond said. "I am grateful for the leadership that Fort Polk Progress has provided in the continued fight to keep Fort Polk strong; and I stand together with the Louisiana delegation in support of our service members, their families and the communities that support them."

Rep. Scalise (R-Jefferson) said Fort Polk is essential to the nation's capability to defend itself and cuts at the installation could have greater effects on the Army at large.

"Defending our country requires a fully equipped, readily available military, and Fort Polk is a strategically vital asset to this defense," Rep. Scalise said. "I applaud Fort Polk's efforts to train our soldiers and promote the base's importance in our nation's Capital. I, along with our entire delegation, will maintain an open dialogue with the Department of Defense to ensure that our military leaders understand the important role Fort Polk plays in protecting our country."

Reese said the uniform support of the congressional delegation reflects the overwhelming support from Louisiana citizens.

"We are incredibly thankful for the tremendous support that we receive from our entire congressional delegation," Reese said. "We intend to work with our delegation on this trip to address the budget related issues driving these drastic reductions."

The group is slated to return to Louisiana on Friday, April 24. The Department of the Army is expected to come to a decision this summer regarding which Army installations will sustain force structure reductions.


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Fort Polk Progress is a regional community organization that takes a proactive stance toward Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) by maintaining relationships and partnering with decision makers in Congress, at the Pentagon and at the state level, ensuring that the most up to date information concerning Fort Polk and the surrounding communities is used in decisions concerning the base. In addition, Fort Polk Progress actively markets the base to the military as the most cost effective place to provide soldiers with the best training possible and strives to help ensure the best possible quality of life for soldiers, civilians and their families. Most recently, Fort Polk Progress has spear-headed an Education Initiative, which acknowledges exceptional educational achievements in the region and pursues continued excellence in education for military families throughout the region. 

 

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