Fort Polk progress projects promise of bright future
August 3, 2009
- Community partnership seeks to build for Soldiers, families
- 'We're writing the book for how it should be done," says Polk CG
FORT POLK, La. -- I want to let you know about some initiatives we are working that are ultimately going to affect the quality of life for our Soldiers, Family members, civilian workforce, retirees and community.
On July 23, we met with officials from throughout Louisiana to discuss the growth of our communities -- culturally, economically, educationally and developmentally. The meeting -- "Polk Progress Update" -- was a summation of our collaboration on these initiatives. I think we've made a little bit of history here. This is the first time we've gathered like this and there was a synergy present in the conference room -- the kind of synergy that presents itself when caring people congregate to share and exchange ideas about common goals.
I know that getting together can be difficult when it involves busy schedules and travel. Here's the extensive list of attendees -- federal officials and state and local elected leaders: State Senator John Smith, District 30; Leesville Mayor Betty Westerchil; Deridder Mayor Ron Roberts; Mike Reese, Fort Polk Progress president; Matt Bailey, military liaison for U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu; Jim Hill, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army; Jon Grafton, England Air Park Authority; the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, represented by Paul Sawyer, the director of federal programs/installations; Pat Witty and Skip Smart, community outreach services; Rick Ranson, with the CENLA Chamber; and Mike Sibley with Cleco Power. Also on hand were Jackie Self, Vernon Parish superintendent of schools; and Jim Tuck, Vernon Parish Police Jury president.
I want to give you a brief synopsis of a few of the topics on the table and the groups that are sponsoring them. It's just a general overview, but it gives you an idea of the strides we are making. Picture our community as it enjoys a growth spurt unlike any that we've ever seen in this area. Picture our community as it thrives, offering a wide variety of housing, dining, shopping and family activities. This is the kind of vision we share, the kind of vision that's going to benefit Soldiers, Families and members of the local community.
1. Polk Progress: This organization's mission is to increase Fort Polk's viability and maintain our tremendous economic impact on the region. We want to see high-tech industry and installation maintenance support industries develop in our surrounding parishes. As of now, Polk Progress is working with the CASA and Senator Landrieu's office to develop a formal structure and pursue non-profit corporation status.
2. England Air Park: Jon Grafton and his team at England Air Park are committed to supporting Fort Polk in both real-world and training activities. Our goal and theirs: To create a world-class power projection platform for the U.S. Army. There are more than $20 million worth of projects in the works from renovation of the primary runway to re-opening of a 70-room dorm for military and civilian personnel.
3. We are working hand-in-hand with the Louisiana Department of Economic Development to address community needs for restaurants, housing and retail enterprises. Mayor Westerchil and Paul Sawyer have begun a "restaurant recruitment" initiative that seeks to bring major chains to our area. We'll keep you posted on the progress that's made.
4. Vernon Parish Comprehensive Master Plan: The Vernon Parish Police Jury has provided $120,000 to match a grant from the Center for Planning Excellence to develop this plan. The plan will outline recommendations for land use, infrastructure requirements, housing, transportation and more.
5. Growth Management Plan: With guidance from the Department of Defense Economic Adjustment, a team has been formed that includes Jim Tuck, police jury president; Mayor Westerchil, Col. Francis Burns, our garrison commander (a non-voting member) Senator John Smith, Louisiana Representative James Armes and Jackie Self. This team serves as a decision- making body to align focus and funds to its subcommittees. As Fort Polk grows, this team will examine impacts of that growth and how to address those impacts.
6. Vernon Transportation study: The Louisiana Department of Transportation is working with a $600,000 grant to assess area roads and where improvements are needed. This will include areas along La. Highway 171, other road improvements and beltway construction.
Thursday's meeting culminated with a re-signing of the Army Community Covenant. First signed in June 2008, the covenant is an initiative of the Secretary of the Army to invite communities across America to demonstrate their support for service members and Families. The goal for this year's covenant is to reaffirm community and military leaders' dedication to building a strong community. The covenant is no longer just symbolic. Our Polk Progress update proves that A,Awe're making measurable progress. You'll read more about the re-signing of the covenant on page 3 of today's Guardian.
I'd like to offer what we accomplished at this meeting as an example of the way things ought to be done between military and civilian communities, and I've not seen this kind of energy on any other military post. We're planning more meetings like this one, and we'll keep you informed about our progress. You, the community, whether military or civilian, have a vested interest in that progress. The bottom line is that we're all Americans. We're all in this together. Our mandate is to improve the quality of life for our Soldiers and Families. We've never been served by finer Americans.