This week I had the privilege of joining an estimated 1,400 citizens at Fort Leonard Wood as we made the case against force reductions at the post as the Army decides on restructuring and troop reductions. This Army restructuring is based on a proposal to reduce current end strength from 562,000 active duty troops to 490,000 troops by fiscal year 2020 as a result of the war in Afghanistan coming to a close. Implementation of this proposal could lead to a force reduction of 3,900 at Fort Leonard Wood.

I have concerns that the proposed force reduction at Fort Leonard Wood would be the loss of the 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB) and its engineer and military police battalions, which are Forces Command (FORSCOM) units. Previously, the Army made the wise decision to place FORSCOM units with Training & Doctrine Command (TRADOC) schools. Army readiness benefits greatly from FORSCOM soldiers and leaders returning from combat zones as they can be reassigned as subject matter experts to assist in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of lessons learned from operational units. Additionally, soldier and family well being are dramatically improved with the opportunity to stay twice as long in one location.

In addition to the proposed reduction potentially harming military readiness and family well being, the cuts at Fort Leonard Wood would disproportionately impact Pulaski, Laclede, and other counties with civilians employed at the Fort. The economic impact to this part of our state would be devastating.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I believe the military needs to fully utilize the new construction that is underway at Fort Leonard Wood. This should be done not by cutting personnel, but by expanding our missions at the post. That is what I will continue to advocate for in Washington.

Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that is a premier Army asset and is economically crucial to this region and to our state. Fort Leonard Wood is a proven and valued Army investment that must remain fully staffed to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

On another matter, I had the pleasure this week of hosting the Fourth District Congressional Art Show in Columbia, exhibiting the 21 entries we received and announcing the first, second, and third prize winners. The first prize winner is Jessica Houke of Seymour for her work titled Winter Branches. Second place honors went to Katie Vest of Boonville for her art titled Roofs of Rome. The third place ribbon was awarded to Bethany Anne Cantrell of Warrensburg for her artwork titled Time Worn Memories.

I am so impressed with all 21 entries we received from very talented students in Missouri’s Fourth District. It was a very difficult task for our judge to narrow it down to three finalists and then to pick the eventual first place prize winner. I congratulate Jessica Houke for emerging from a field of very talented young artists to win first place and a trip to Washington, D.C., where her artwork will be displayed. I also thank Jessica’s art teacher at Marshfield High School, Tina Hyde, for encouraging Jessica’s burgeoning talent.

The winning entry will hang in the Capitol in Washington for one year and will join artwork from other Congressional districts. I look forward to welcoming Jessica to Washington for the ceremony unveiling works of art from across the country. I hope Jessica and all the students who took part in the competition will continue to use their gifts and talents to impact others through art. All are to be congratulated for their superb contributions.