Among the thanks being given in West Central Louisiana as the annual holiday approaches is the renewed assurance that Fort Polk will remain open and that troops there and at other military installations will be paid more.
The U.S. House this week approved a conference committee report on the National Defense Authorization Act and the Senate is expected to soon do so, perhaps before week’s end. President Trump has previously committed to signing the measure.
Congressman Mike Johnson, R-Benton, whose 4th District includes Vernon and Beauregard Parishes, said when the measure first passed the House that the $700 billion bill is a step in the direction of making the military again a top national priority.
Among the bill’s provisions is one preventing enactment of the Base Realignment and Closure initiative.
“Fort Polk comes out on top,” Congressman Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, a member of the Armed Services Committee, told Greg Hilburn of the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana.
“It (the bill) prevents the closure, which was a real fear in the community, especially in 2014 and 2015. Not that’s not a concern,” he told Hilburn.
Fort Polk’s economic impact on Vernon, Beauregard and the rest of the state is huge. It has an annual payroll in the neighborhood of $1 billion, generates $800 million in sales annually and about $30 million in state and local taxes. Its presence, reports show, generates about $400 million in off-base income.
The pay raise would be 2.4 per cent in 2018, which matches private sector growth.
Under current law, a raise of 2.1 percent is authorized, the eight time in nine years that the military pay change falls below private-sector wage growth. The 2.4 per cent would amount to about $600 annually for enlisted personnel and about $1,000 to $1,800 for officers.
Polk ordinarily hosts about 10,000 troops, with deployments and training rotations influencing changes in that number. Currently, about 3,000 Polk troops are deployed.
Johnson’s statement noted Congress and the Trump administration are making the military a top priority. “Our men and women in uniform deserve the very best we can offer — in resources, training, support and pay. This legislation is a step in the right direction,” he said.
In addition to the boost for Fort Polk, the bill includes funding for upgrade of the B-52 force at Bossier City’s Barksdale AFB and support for the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, actually situated at Belle Chasse south of New Orleans, where F-15 fighters will remain in service as interceptors of any threat along the Gulf Coast.
This story includes information in reports by The Town Talk (Alexandria) and Associated Press, as well as Leesville Daily Leader/Beauregard Daily News.