Community rallies behind Fort Polk as reduction decision looms - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Community rallies behind Fort Polk as reduction decision looms

Monday's meeting at the First United Pentecostal Church in Leesville. Monday's meeting at the First United Pentecostal Church in Leesville.
State Rep. James K. Armes, D-Leesville, addresses the crowd. State Rep. James K. Armes, D-Leesville, addresses the crowd.
Leesville Mayor Robert Rose. Leesville Mayor Robert Rose.
LEESVILLE, LA (KPLC) -

One of three things could happen to Fort Polk.

It could lose 5,000 troops, gain 1,000 troops or nothing could happen at all.

Community members and officials from the region want one of the last two options and they made that plea for the last time Monday to a special audience of Army top brass from Washington, D.C.

"Let's not take away from Fort Polk, let's add to it," said state Rep. James K. Armes, D-Leesville.

That's the message community members and officials want to send to members of the Department of the Army.

The community is on a mission to save the sprawling Vernon Parish installation from troop reductions.

Since the Army released its assessment on how to downsize by 2020, the action group, Fort Polk Progress, has held a number of community meetings to build support against reductions.

In a packed church sanctuary on Monday, Leesville Mayor Robert Rose said Monday's meeting may have been the most important one.

"This is part of the official process, the meetings before were more informational to the community to advise them of what the situation was, what the PEA was, but this meeting itself is the final step in the PEA for the Army team to come down and hear the community personally," Rose said.

During Monday's meeting, there were direct requests from state lawmakers.

"We're here to support those people, their hard work, their commitment, their excellence and the way they supported Fort Polk this many years and before you, I ask you to consider that before you make your final decision," said state Rep. Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, House Speaker.

There were also messages from U.S. Senators David Vitter, R-La., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., as well as other lawmakers.

"I am confident that the Army and it's leadership will find that this base is a strong and strategic asset to this nation and one that we will need for many years to come," Landrieu said.

But at the heart of the meeting were members of the community, sharing real stories of the real impact that Fort Polk has had on their lives and hometown.

"My dad was one of the first troops at Fort Polk when it was called Camp Polk. He came in 1941 in June. He was drafted from Wisconsin. We just feel like we need to do what we can do to help this community. Fort Polk has been good to us and we want to be good to them," said Arno Arpke, a Vernon Parish resident.

What happens now?

Fort Polk Progress will head to Washington next week to continue to push their effort before lawmakers and Army officials.

A decision from the Army is not expected until sometime this summer.

Copyright 2013 KPLC. All rights reserved.

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