Is Fort Polk At Risk of Closing?

February 12, 2005
Reported by Josh Green

The base realignment and closure process starts next month and by November the government will start to close the military installations it feels are unnecessary. A presidential visit in 1996 marked an exciting but scary time for Central Louisiana. England Air Force Base was closing and England Air Park was born. Some economists are shocked that the area rebounded from the closing of the air base. Now, more than a decade later the area's home to a golf course, restaurants and an airport that will soon include a new terminal. But England Air Base had 3000 troops stationed there.

Fort Polk, which is an hour up the road in Leesville, is now home to more than three times that amount. State economist Loren Scott says if Fort Polk is hit by this round of BRAC, Central Louisiana's story this time around will be much different. "If they did decide to close Fort Polk, God help us all."

There's twice as many people employed in that unit as there are in the largest manufacturing employer in our state. And Central Louisiana business owners like Foster Walker realize that. Walker says, "People come to Alexandria as a natural part of their shopping and their lives from Leesville and Fort Polk."

BRAC has grabbed the attention of business owners for months now. Prompting the chamber of commerce to visit Ft. Polk to find out what's going on behind the gates and what kind of impact it has outside of them. Mike Johnson, president of the Chamber of Commerce, says, "I had heard 50-percent of the employment in Vernon Parish is related to Fort Polk, which is incredible but I didn't know it had a billion-dollar input into the community."

Fort Polk is home to the Joint Readiness Training Center. More than 15-thousands troops have trained here for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the conflicts started. The Convention and Visitors Bureau says those troops rotating into Fort Polk impacts businesses like hotels. Last year hotel business was up more than 15-percent thanks, partially to those troops checking in. This year 40-thousand troops are expected to train at Fort Polk during 13 rotations. And each time the government will pump seven to eleven million dollars into Central Louisiana's economy for the training.

Louisiana's elected officials in Washington have told us before they're making that a selling point in Washington. Louisiana Congressman Bobby Jindal says, "Louisiana is really doing a lot to help protect our country." But there are things that need improvement here that locals say they're trying to change. Louisiana Senator David Vitter says, "The barracks for enlisted personnel. Some of those are in horrible condition."

Economists say the naval reserve base in New Orleans is at a greater risk of closing than Fort Polk.