LEESVILLE — Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center will sustain minor cuts to its troop strength, the U.S. Army reported Thursday, further confirming the military value of the premier training installation and the role the post plays in the nation's defense strategy.
According to the U.S. Army, Fort Polk will lose 388 soldiers, a mere fraction of the troop strength it could have lost in the worst-case scenario. This reduction will result in a net troop population change of -2 percent at Fort Polk from our pre-9/11 levels. Ft. Polk and 29 other installations around the country, had been named as potential areas for troop reduction as the Army was forced to shrink under mandate from the Budget Control Act of 2011.
"We're very encouraged about the outcome of this process," said Michael Reese, Chairman of Fort Polk Progress. "This further reinforces that the Army finds great military value in Fort Polk and that they recognize the commitment from the communities that surround Ft. Polk, our state government officials and our Federal Congressional delegation in their collective support for the Army."
Reese said the Army's decision likely stemmed from the combined military value of the installation and the hard work put in by the region and state to make Fort Polk a station of choice.
The region has worked hard to draw investments to the area and to improve quality of life amenities, particularly in education. The region has made significant investments in water and sewer expansion, road infrastructure such as the completion of major thoroughfares Highway 28 and Highway 171, major investments in parks and recreational sites in DeRidder and major investments in school infrastructure of more than $43 million just in the last several years.
Perhaps, most notably, the region was highlighted by the U.S. Army for its work on its Education Initiative, a mission set by the community to improve the schools and academic opportunities to the children of military families and locals. Fort Polk Progress and the community were recently honored with the 2015 Association of Defense Communities' Community Excellence Award for the Education Initiative, and was the recipient of the 2014 Military Child Education Coalition's Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award.
The military value of Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Center speaks for itself, Reese said. Fort Polk is the only growing installation in the Army portfolio, recently acquiring more than 43,000 additional acres of training space and hosts the Army's graduate level training exercises while operating in a state that provides some of the lowest cost of operations.
Elected officials and regional leaders were quick to express their thoughts regarding the decision at Fort Polk.
"I strongly support the decision to keep the 3/10 at Fort Polk." said Sen. David Vitter. "While I'd rather not see any drawdown of our troops, this is ultimately positive news - Fort Polk was saved from significantly greater cuts. We need to remain vigilant against attempts to reduce our force structure at the expense of our national security, and making sure that our troops at Fort Polk have the support they need will remain among my top priorities."
Rep. Charles Boustany spoke in support of Fort Polk on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday ahead of the Army's decision.
"I rise to highlight the vital role Fort Polk, Louisiana, plays in our nation's strategic defense, and to urge the U.S. Army to spare it from any cuts.
"Fort Polk houses the Army's primary Joint Readiness Training Center, the nation's premier combat training center. Fort Polk is also home to the 3rd Brigade/10th Mountain Division, Fort Polk's lone Brigade Combat Team - a highly mobile, lethal, and flexible combat unit. This team was recognized as a superior Brigade Combat Team awarding it the Meritorious Unit Citation for its efforts in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Any cuts to this award-winning unit would deal a devastating blow to the Post, its surrounding communities, and Louisiana as a whole.
"The local community and state have invested money and donated land demonstrating their commitment to this imperative Post. As the Army announces its troop realignment, Louisiana stands together to support the 3rd Brigade/10th Mountain Division Brigade Combat Team, the Fort Polk community, and the military excellence they represent."
Rep. Garret Graves said the Army made the right decision by protecting Fort Polk.
"No post in the U.S. compares to Fort Polk by any metric - cost, readiness, operational efficiency. Soldiers here are better prepared for combat than anywhere else. While we're disappointed to experience a cut of any size, we're relieved to avoid what could have been," said Graves. "The Army is getting smaller, which I do not support. But Fort Polk's survival will result in superior combat readiness and operational efficiency, which is absolutely our desired national security outcome. And the entire Central Louisiana community should be commended for their efforts to support Fort Polk and the U.S. Army."
Rep. Ralph Abraham said he was displeased with the announcement.
"I'm outraged that there were any cuts at all," he said. "At a time where we face threats from ISIS, Iran, North Korea and a host of other threats, our national security should be our paramount concern. Yet, the President has chosen to draw down 40,000 troops nationwide. It defies logic to cut troops when our nation is facing so many threats. If anything, Fort Polk should be adding troops because it is a world-renowned joint readiness center. We need leadership, not troop drawdowns."
Sen. Bill Cassidy said the military value of Fort Polk prevented it from sustaining deeper cuts.
"Ft. Polk has been spared the deep cuts other bases received," Cassidy said. "The positions lost are part of the Ft. Polk family. We regret this loss but recognize it could have been worse. We celebrate that the Brigade Combat Team remains intact and there's every indication Ft. Polk will continue to be recognized as the important training center it is, preparing our troops to defend our country."
House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise said the Army made the right decision to protect the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division.
"While I am disappointed that troop reductions were made, I am pleased the Army recognized that Fort Polk is a valuable asset and decided to retain the Brigade Combat Team," Rep. Scalise said. "I commend the Fort Polk community and the other stakeholders in Central Louisiana who have worked tirelessly to support the base, and I look forward to working with them in the future to protect Fort Polk and to ensure that it remains a key piece of our nation's national security."
Rep. John Fleming was influential in the process to support Fort Polk, going as far to offer an amendment to counteract the spending caps set forth by the Budget Control Act that ultimately did not pass.
"Today's announcement could have been much worse, in light of the President's plan to reduce our military and strength by 40,000 troops," he said. "Retaining the 3/10 Brigade at Fort Polk is a win for Louisiana in the midst of devastating cuts by President Obama. While Fort Polk will be losing almost 400 soldiers, the cuts could have been in the thousands, mirroring the impact to other bases around the country. The support from Louisiana's local communities along with state and federal officials no doubt played a significant role convincing Army leaders of the value of Fort Polk.
"However, the President's plan to cut the military is far from finished. I, along with many of my Congressional colleagues, have been working to prevent these cuts. Unfortunately, even though both Senator Vitter and I offered amendments to preserve the current Army troop strength during consideration of this year's National Defense Authorization Act, we only could garner one Democrat vote.
"The Middle East is falling apart due to the President's premature withdrawal from Iraq and Russian aggression is on the rise even as we are reducing our Army forces in Europe. I will continue to advocate not just for growing Fort Polk, but also for strengthening our entire Army. Our national security depends on it."
Sen. Vitter also offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have restricted further cuts to Brigade Combat Teams and provided additional funding to forgo the mandated cuts.
Local and regional leaders were pleased with the Army's decision, and vowed to continue their work making infrastructure investments and improving quality of life amenities in the area.
Leesville Mayor Rick Allen said the Army will continue to see a region that works hard to make Fort Polk a duty station of choice.
"We're encouraged by today's decision and the confidence that the Army has placed in our community," Allen said. "We've known for decades that Central Louisiana is the best place in the world to train soldiers. Today's decision also provides our region even more motivation to continue creating the quality of life amenities our soldiers and their families deserve."
DeRidder Mayor Ron Roberts said Fort Polk's military value is too great and must continue to be protected.
"Fort Polk has been and continues to be a major player in our national security," Roberts said. "We look forward to having the good people at Fort Polk continue their mission."
Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said the quality of training occurring at Fort Polk coupled with the regional dedication shown to the installation were the driving forces behind keeping troop strength strong.
"We are relieved to learn that the U.S. Army has chosen to protect Fort Polk from drastic cuts," Roach said. "Obviously that decision was based primarily on the tradition of excellence created by the men and women who have served there and on the quality of the facility itself. Hopefully the strong community support from across the region helped convince the decision makers that Fort Polk is well positioned to continue to fulfill its mission to equip and train our soldiers to protect and defend our country."
Business leaders across Louisiana said the Army made the right decision in protecting Fort Polk.
"This outcome proves that the Army decision makers strongly believe in the value of Fort Polk to our national defense," said Deborah Randolph, President of the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce. "I believe the Intermediate Staging Base and the capabilities relative to rapid deployment from England Airpark factored into the decision as well as the level of education and quality of life offered to military families both on and off of the post. I salute the efforts of Louisiana's Congressional Delegation and Mike Reese and all who are involved in Fort Polk Progress. I am grateful to the Chamber members and many others in this part of central Louisiana who banded together with the other surrounding communities to advocate for Fort Polk."
Anne Causey, Executive Director of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce said the region will continue its work to make Vernon Parish a great place to live and to host the U.S. Army.
"I would like to express our gratitude to everyone who gave their time and effort to help convince the Army that Vernon Parish is "the best hometown for our soldiers," said Causey. "We will continue to grow and improve our quality of life issues as well as support the Education Initiative. The future shines bright!"
Chance Lewis, President of the Greater Beauregard Chamber of Commerce, reiterated Causey's sentiment.
"The Beauregard Area Chamber of Commerce is very pleased with the announcement from the Army that Fort Polk will not undergo substantial troop reductions. As a community, we have been honored to serve the soldiers and families that call the Southwest Louisiana area "home" and that commitment persists today. We look forward to maintaining our relationship with Fort Polk as we in Beauregard Parish continue to welcome new families, provide resources and recreation and sustain the needs of our community."
Reese said that everyone should celebrate today's news, but also keep in mind that the fight is not over. He said that it is imperative that the region continues to provide concrete improvements to the area that demonstrate a sustained commitment to making Ft. Polk a station of choice.
"With this announcement, it is obvious that the Army places great military value in Ft. Polk," Reese said. "And thanks to the teamwork demonstrated by all of Fort Polk Progress' partners across the state, I believe our best days are ahead of us.
We will stay keenly focused on our efforts to build a coalition of defense communities and Congressional supporters to find a solution to these budget-driven impacts to our Army. We will continue to work with the Louisiana Congressional delegation who has taken the lead on this effort as well as continuing to take advantage of future opportunities as the Army continues to change."