Despite torrential rain and dangerous flashes of constant lightning, a group of six green Lakota helicopters flew in formation towards Million Air, a private airport in Alexandria Wednesday afternoon, with Secretary of the Army the Honorable John H. McHugh on board. 



Despite torrential rain and dangerous flashes of constant lightning, a group of six green Lakota helicopters flew in formation towards Million Air, a private airport in Alexandria Wednesday afternoon, with Secretary of the Army the Honorable John H. McHugh on board.  
McHugh, whose duties as Secretary of the Army include communicating Army policies, programs and accomplishments to the public, as well as convening meetings with senior leadership of the Army, did just that: he visited Fort Polk, escorted by General James C. Yarbrough, commander of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Ft. Polk, for a tour and an update on quality-of-life improvements taking place on the installation.
While there, McHugh also visited Wounded Warriors of Fort Polk's Warrior Transition Unit and one of JRTC Operation Group's forward operating bases. Before returning to the Pentagon, he paused for a brief press conference to speak about what he observed over the course of the day.
"When I visit posts for the first time," said McHugh, "I try to get together with soldiers who have been wounded. It's important to all of us to get out of the Pentagon and talk with the soldiers who are actually out there living the program we designed on the back of a piece of paper. Our intentions are the best. But we rarely get anything perfect out of the box. There is no better way to learn, to get better, than to learn from these soldiers. Soldiers overwhelmingly say they're treated well here.
Ft. Polk does a great job training folks, preparing them for what they might encounter while in the theater.
"Climatologically, Fort Polk has a great advantage," he added. "The training land here mirrors where the soldiers will be deployed. This is absolutely essential. You're able to do it all here—all points of the spectrum of warfare. That's all we could ask for."
Because of the top-notch preparation found at this installation, "Fort Polk is key to the Army's future," said McHugh.
As one of only four combat training centers that prepare troops for deployment and combat, McHugh emphasized, "What you do here is crucial. It's important that those soldiers we ask to go into harm's way are trained. The great advantage of this post is the supportive training and its geography."
As Fort Polk makes plans to expand its training areas, McHugh pointed out that the installation has the special distinction in its ability to spread out and create new training areas.
"You guys have that in pretty good order, the chance to expand. That makes any post a special post," he said.
He also applauded local elected officials, who, he says, have been very supportive as Fort Polk makes and carries out its plans for expansion. This expansion means economic growth not only for the base but for the surrounding towns.
"We appreciate the great support," said McHugh. "We like to be where we're wanted."
McHugh also addressed recruiting, which many people mistakenly feel is down as the war drags on. This is not the case, said McHugh.
"The numbers have never been as good as they are now," he said. "With the economy the way it is, people need jobs, and after nine years of war, virtually everyone wearing that uniform knows what they're getting themselves into.
"They are great people doing great work. We're proud of them and all they do."
The planned expansion of Fort Polk is a five-year process, according to Yarbrough. "We're into the third year and right on track," he said.
"We will continue to be up front on informing the public as lands begin being bought."
The economic expansion of Fort Polk impressed McHugh as well.
"I saw a lot of the new construction that's going on. I think it speaks very clearly to what the Army feels is one of the more important places we have. We're engaged in two theaters of war, and sending these young heroes into these theaters to fight for freedom and democracy and to help our partners in Iraq and Afghanistan regain their freedom, we want to make sure we're giving these soldiers the tools and training they need to do their job most effectively, but most importantly, to come home safely.
"Ft. Polk is a critical part of that," he said.
One of the more important parts of the expansion of Fort Polk is the renovation of family housing, said Yarbrough.
McHugh agreed. "It's some of the more impressive housing I've seen in a long time.
"This construction speaks very clearly to what the Army sees as important. It's so important that these heroes know their families will have a quality of life commiserate with their sacrifices."
Yarbrough added, "We talk a lot about the Army family ... this is, by and large, a family-based Army. While our soldiers are out their serving our nation, we want to make sure they don't need to worry about their spouses and children. It's an important part of the mission and a critical part of readiness. Beyond that, it's the right thing to do."