FORT LEONARD WOOD — A recent survey by the U.S. Army showed that eliminating up to 3,900 civilian and military jobs on Fort Leonard Wood would have no significant impact on the region. Community leaders disagree.
On Tuesday, more than 1,000 people filled Nutter Field House to encourage the Army to reconsider its findings and to urge that this region wants to support the growth of Fort Leonard Wood, not its reduction.
Tuesday night's meeting gave the Army the opportunity to hear from the community and to gather additional information regarding the Army’s 2020 Force Restructure decision.
The Army plans on reducing its forces from 562,000 to 490,000 by fiscal year 2020, and to realign its forces over the next few years. Though no final decisions have been made, the impact of this survey could result in a 41 percent job loss to Fort Leonard Wood.
Commanding general of Fort Leonard Wood, Brig. Gen. Mark Inch, thanked the large crowd for attending and said he was amazed at the amount of local leaders present.
“You're making the writing of the first paragraph of my report so easy,” Inch said.
Community leaders from Lebanon to Rolla filled the audience, including Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Rep. Steve Lynch from the 122nd, district, Sandy Proctor from the 129th District, Diane Franklin from 123rd and Keith Frederick from 121st District.
Several leaders in education from the area including Dr. Judene Blackburn, superintendent of the Waynesville School District, and superintendents of Crocker, Swedeborg, Laquey, Richland, Dixon, Plato and Rolla. University representatives from Ozark Technical College, Drury University, Columbia College, Missouri S&T, and Webster University were at the meeting to show their support as well.
Hartzler, a member of the Armed Services Committee spoke to show her support of Fort Leonard Wood.
“We are very proud of this installation,” said Hartzler. “It's a thriving and prosperous installation. It goes without saying that the fort is a proven Army investment for the Army.”
Hartzler said it would make more sense for the Army to increase the number of soldiers on Fort Leonard Wood, not reduce it.
“We would argue that every position on Fort Leonard Wood is vital to our national security and our community,” she said. “It shows with the pride of our community. The support of Fort Leonard Wood from the community is second-to-none. More than 2,300 sent letters to the Army in support of Fort Leonard Wood.”
Joe Driskell, executive director of the Leonard Wood Institution, further argued that Fort Leonard Wood is vital to the success of the Army and that the fort directly impact the region's economy.
Driskell said that about 25,000 additional jobs off-post are supported by Fort Leonard Wood, and $57 million is generated by visitors to Fort Leonard Wood annually.
Driskell also asked the Army to consider the fact that Fort Leonard Wood is surrounded by a competitive, and growing school district, Waynesville R- VI. Driskell said that a majority of the students in Waynesville School District are military-related and that reductions would directly impact the thriving school district.
“The Fort Leonard Wood area's ACT scores and graduation rates are among the highest in the country for military schools,” he said. “And the school district's facilities rival some colleges and universities.”
Driskell also argued that the cost of living is cheaper in Fort Leonard Wood than the national average and that its central location serves strong purpose for the Army.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler said she thought the meeting went very well.
"I thought it went fabulous," Hartzler said. "I can't imagine any other installation having the level of support that was shown here tonight, almost standing room only. All of the community organizations and elected officials were represented. I think we made an excellent presentation to the Department of the Army and I feel confident they're going to go back and make a very strong case for us."
During the ceremony, representatives from the Army stated the congress takes part in deciding what installations to reduce as apart of Army 2020.
“I think we're positioned strongly in Missouri with three representatives on the Armed Services committee,” she said. “I know we're going to be working together in a bipartisan fashion for this community, for this installation, making a very strong case for us and we're very hopeful that it will turn out very positive in the future," she said.