Cenla rallies to fight possible cutbacks at Fort Polk

The public has one week left to get involved in the fight to spare Fort Polk from major cutbacks.

The public comment period on a recent report detailing potential cutbacks at several installations ends Aug. 25. Local stakeholders are making one last push to add to the thousands of comments already made in support of the Vernon Parish Army base, which could lose more than half its troops in a worst-case scenario.

“This is everybody’s last shot at this,” said Michael Reese, chairman of Fort Polk Progress, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and advocating for the base. “If you care about the future of this installation and its impact, make your voice heard.”

The “Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment for Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment” details alternatives to reduce the Army's strength by as many as 70,000 personnel. A total of 30 installations were listed with maximum potential troop reductions.

Fort Polk’s maximum troop reduction listed in the report is 6,500, out of a current military population of 10,836.

Such a reduction, stakeholders say, would be catastrophic for the Central Louisiana economy. To help convince the Army to keep Fort Polk at its current troop strength, they are once again counting on a strong response from the surrounding communities.

“The Army will consider community support as one of the criteria when they’re making these decisions,” said Deborah Randolph, president of the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce.

In the final days of the public comment period, a flurry of events are being held to secure as many signatures as possible. On Tuesday, the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce is hosting a “letter signing day” at several local businesses. 

Letter signing stations in the Alexandria/Pineville area will be set up at many local grocery stores, as well as Red River Bank, Capital One Bank, Mid-South Bank, Southern Heritage Bank, Regions Bank, H & H Appliances, Alexandria City Hall, Pineville City Hall, Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce and Alexandria International Airport.

“I believe we’re doing everything we possibly can,” Reese said. “We’re trying to inform people why Fort Polk matters and what they can do to help. When we’ve done those two things, we’ve been very successful.”

As of Tuesday, the U.S. Army Environmental Command had received approximately 14,500 comments on the SPEA. Of those, more than a third (about 5,000) came from communities in support of Fort Polk. An online petition had 3,403 signatures.

During a similar force reduction process last year, more than 4,000 comments were submitted to the Department of the Army in support of Fort Polk, far more than any other threatened base. Fort Polk escaped with only minimal personnel losses.

“Last time, the Secretary of the Army was aware of the response for Fort Polk and word even reached the White House,” Randolph said. “Now, other communities have taken note and they’re waging their own campaigns.”

“We stood out and were unique because of the overwhelming response,” Reese said. “If we’re going to stand out again, we need to go above and beyond that.”