BRAC (base realignment and closure) used to instill terror in the hearts of business people and residents in the Fort Leonard Wood region, but the term didn't instill that kind of fear during the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership's (SOP) annual meeting.
Leaders, business people, elected officials and other interested individuals from all over the region gathered for SOP's annual meeting to hear about what the organization and other invested individuals have been doing to further military interests in the region, as well as the state, in the last year.
Fort Leonard Wood currently has an operating budget of over $400 million. The soldiers who stationed on the base have an impact on the regional economy that ripples outward from its home in Pulaski County. They live in the region and contribute the economies of, not only the communities immediately surrounding Fort Leonard Wood, but also the lake region, Rolla, and communities beyond the back gate.
Of the 23 major military facilities in Missouri, according to Joe Driskill, Missouri's Military Advocate, Fort Leonard Wood is the largest in Missouri.
A key speaker at the event was Senator Claire McCaskill, a senior member of the Committee on Armed Services. McCaskill, as well as other speakers at the event, discussed Fort Leonard Wood's possibilities if a BRAC were to come around again within the next few years.
The overall attitude, by speakers, about Fort Leonard Wood's position if a BRAC were to occur was cautiously optimistic. McCaskill discussed some ideas that the base is working on to expand the mission at Fort Leonard Wood such as training for first responders, the national guard, homeland security, and Department of Defense Law Enforcement training.
"We can save some money by centralizing that training at Fort Leonard Wood," McCaskill said.
General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital was another point of discussion that many of the speakers touched on. According to officials, the hospital and airport are key issues for keeping Fort Leonard Wood a desirable place to expand missions.
"If we can't show air service, that's a negative in BRAC. If we could grow the passenger totals by a couple of thousand, then we would be in a stronger position," McCaskill said.
Driskill said that a BRAC is closer than it has been in recent years, but "we're rowing the boat better than we have before."
In answer to a question about getting funding for the airport, Driskill said there were several avenues that could be pursued such as working with the Federal Aviation Administration, getting some of the law "tweaked" with community effort, as well as working with state and transportation offices.
"At the end of the day, the most important thing is the interest of the Army and the community," Driskill said.
Driskill was also asked about the possibility of incorporating GLWACH into the community as a hospital. Driskill said there was a lot of interest in it, but it's a "federal issue." He said a joint use approach would have to be taken and suggested that the community discuss it with Senators Blunt and McCaskill, as well as Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler.
Kent Thomas, Executive Director of the Leonard Wood Institute and SOP, said, "We are in great shape and ready to absorb the extra," in reference to when, or if, a BRAC occurs, causing downsizing at other military installations.
Thomas also discussed the possibilities of expanding Fort Leonard Wood's mission with training civilian law enforcement and first responders, as well as homeland security.
The term most officials used during the meeting was the word "capacity." Officials all said that Fort Leonard Wood has the capacity to expand its missions, take on new schools and training, and is poised to be able to accept those missions.
Mike Dubois, Director, Defense and International, Kit Bond Strategies, which advocates on behalf of military interests in Missouri, said, "BRAC is not only a threat, but an opportunity. We have the opportunity to go after other missions."