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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Community leaders react to cuts at post

  • Even though Fort Leonard Wood stands to lose about 1,000 soldiers next year, local officials are confident in the community's resilience.
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  • Even though Fort Leonard Wood stands to lose about 1,000 soldiers next year, local officials are confident in the community's resilience.
    Rick Morris of the Committee of 50 is optimistic that the Fort and the community have what it takes to make it through.
    "When you take 1,000 soldiers, it affects our schools and our community," Morris said. "We have to be patient as the Department of Defense and the government figure out ways to realign themselves. I think the Fort is postured to come out a winner.”
    The Committee of 50 is a volunteer group of business and civic leaders who donate their time and effort to honor troops at the fort and spread the word of the patriotic community they represent.
    "We're a partner with Fort Leonard Wood, and by being a partner it's important to see that as the Army struggles ... we can't just throw up our hands and say, 'They're taking soldiers away – the sky is falling.'"
    Morris says dialogue with elected officials — local, state and federal — is a good step in ensuring the continued success of the Fort.
    "We need to keep telling the story about how vitally important Fort Leonard Wood is, not just to Waynesville and St. Robert but to other communities, the state and the nation," Morris said. "There's opportunity for growth, and the future is bright for Fort Leonard Wood."
    Fort officials say the cuts will yield a net loss of approximately 1,000 Forces Command Soldiers and about 180 civilian jobs by October 2015.
    Currently, there are about 7,000 uniformed personnel, 12,000 military personnel on site for training and 9,000 civilian employees, according to a recent report from The Associated Press.
    Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman says the cuts will be noticed, but this has happened before.
    "I'm not pessimistic," she said. "We are going to learn to deal with whatever the Pentagon ends up doing.
    "I have lived here for 40 years, and I have lived through three of these downsizes. The good thing about our community is that we have been concerned about this for three years and not three weeks,” she said. "Our job here is to bring more missions to Fort Leonard Wood and let people know that it's very important for the plans of the military."
    Even as far away as Rolla and St. James, communities are preparing for the cuts.
    Rolla Mayor Bill Jenks III said many military and civilian personnel live in Rolla, “and when we start talking about cutbacks, that’s those people’s jobs.” With a reduced number of soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood comes a reduced number of civilian personnel needed to support the military.
    While he said the impact that cutbacks at the post will have would “really impact Pulaski County, it will also hit us and Lebanon and surrounding communities.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Jenks said he also is personally concerned not just about the announced cuts, but also “what could be off in the future,” such as the possible round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in 2017.
    Jenks said this area needs a strong representation in Washington, D.C., and that the local Sustainable Ozarks Partnership “is working hard to keep the Fort Leonard Wood name out there.”
    St. James Mayor Dennis Wilson, a military veteran, says any substantial loss will be felt in St. James.
    "There's no doubt that it will be felt, whether it's 1,000 or 500 soldiers," Wilson said.
    "We signed a community covenant with Fort Leonard Wood, which is basically an agreement that we realize the value of having the Fort in central Missouri and its economic impact," Wilson said. "The Fort [also] sends a lot of young men and women out to do things at the Veterans Home. When they start cutting troops, they're going to start cutting the volunteers coming down."
    St. James Chamber of Commerce president Renee Ridling agrees.
    "From an economic standpoint, I think it could have a pretty significant impact on Phelps County and St. James," she said. "There are a number of military families that decide to settle in Phelps County, and some come back after they are discharged.”
    Additionally, military personnel are always noticed during annual events in St. James such as Sip ’N Savor, the Grape and Fall Festival and Old Iron Works Days.
    The faces of the military men and women who attend these events will be missed both economically and on a personal level.
    "I wasn't surprised to see Fort Wood downsized," Ridling said. "I'm happy that its only 1,000 positions. Closing Fort Wood would be much more detrimental to the economy of this area."
    Paul Hackbarth contributed to this story.

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