FORT POLK, La. -- Did you know that about 60 percent of the Soldiers deployed to U.S. combat operations are trained and certified to deploy at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk' And as the Army focuses on our new "main effort" in Afghanistan, that figure jumps to 90 percent. Are you aware that more than 28,200 Soldiers and Family members live on Fort Polk and within the surrounding communities'

That number doesn't include the 72,304 retirees and their Family members who live in Louisiana and southeast Texas and rely on our installation for a variety of their needs. Add to that the 4,000-plus Soldiers who participate in any given monthly JRTC rotation and the 6,500 civilians and contractors who work here. All these folks combined help contribute to the economic impact we have on this area -- more than $1.5 billion annually. That makes Fort Polk the largest economic generator in Louisiana.

There is no doubt Fort Polk plays a critical role for our Army. That's why the Army's senior leaders have invested $750 million in our installation in the past few years. We provide an enduring, critical capability as a training center of excellence for the JRTC and the 162nd Infantry Brigade, training ten Brigade Combat Teams and 6,000 combat advisors annually. Additionally, our deployable brigades -- the 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, and 115th Combat Support Hospital, have all recently returned from tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan and are preparing to deploy again. Our deployable combat and support units, along with the training we provide, makes us unique in the Army.

A lot of people depend on our installation -- and $1.5 billion is a lot of money -- statistical proof that our installation is thriving in ways unprecedented since Camp Polk was established in 1941. Anyone who has recently visited the installation and those of us who live and work here don't need statistics to tell us what we already know: The Army and Fort Polk are growing.

Just look around while you're out and about. Take note of the numerous construction projects underway -- and more is taking place in the future. Fort Polk is growing physically, too, expanding our borders with plans in the works to purchase an additional 100,000 acres of land, doubling the federal property of Fort Polk beginning this fall.
Updates on our Land Purchase can be found on our web site at: www.jrtc-polk.army.mil/LandPurchase/index.html.

Fort Polk's relevance -- and excellence to our 21st century Army - was highlighted during a Jan. 28-29 visit by Gen. George Casey, Chief of Staff of the Army. During his visit, he observed some of the training that takes place at the JRTC. According to the Chief, Fort Polk is "an excellent training center for the Army;" ranking high on his list of priorities for investment in the well-being of Soldiers and Families. Working together, we've taken some huge steps forward the last few years. That momentum will continue into 2010 and beyond.

Let's take a look at some of our priorities this year and what's in store in the months to come:

Our top priority has been and remains quality of life for our Soldiers and Families. Nothing is as important. Since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, service in the Army has been fast-paced and stressful. Some of our Soldiers have deployed two, three, four times and more. Their service is mirrored by that of their Family members during long periods of singlehandedly managing a household and children. I know it's been a tough haul. What's become increasingly clear to the Army is that today's Army Family deserves a quality of life commensurate with their sacrifice.
Most of you are aware of the Army Family Covenant: the Army's commitment -- our promise -- to provide Soldiers and Families a supportive environment where they can thrive. But as we all know: 'Talk is cheap.' How does the covenant affect you' We've worked hard the past year to achieve tangible programs that you can use; with the modern facilities you deserve; with homes and schools that will enhance your sense of well-being and our children's education.

During the coming year you'll see:
Completion of the Army and Air Force Main Post Exchange shopping center. The 131,000-square-foot-mall is set to open at the end of April and will feature a 63,000-square-foot PX and other concessions including Starbucks. All of you have seen the building -- adjacent to the current PX -- this new facility is going to be 50 percent larger than what we have now.

New Fort Polk restaurant: The nationally-known chain brand, Chili's, is coming to Fort Polk. Money has been authorized for construction and efforts will begin sometime this fiscal year. The restaurant will be located at the site of the former Thrift Shop (across from the Class 6 Store). Target date for the groundbreaking is May 1 with a grand opening forecast for this October. An important note: Chili's aims to employ 100 percent military dependents.

Fort Polk Family housing: Picerne Military Housing made the decision in 2004 to spend $240 million to refurbish or construct military housing over a 10-year period. That construction has been taking place ever since and there's more on the horizon for 2010. The Maple Terrace Neighborhood Center opened last May -- an 11,000-square-foot facility with a club room, media room, fitness room, Olympic-sized swimming pool and more. The Dogwood Terrace Neighborhood Center will open in March with construction on the Camellia Neighborhood Center to begin this July. Picerne will open 26 Staff-Sergeant-through-Master-Sergeant homes in Palmetto Terrace through May; more than 26 major renovations will begin throughout housing; and $1.6 million in capital improvements will be spent, to include landscape drainage projects and HVAC upgrades to 87 homes.

Our military parents will enjoy the addition of four Child Development Centers in the coming year. One, next to the Library and Education Center, is already open for business. A second, near Wheelock Bayou Fitness Center, will open within the next few weeks, and two more will be constructed this year, both located at North Fort. One of the facilities, an $8.1 million project, is geared for children birth through age 5. The other, an $8.8 million construction, is for kids ages 6-10. Once those are complete, we will be able to offer our parents six CDCs from which to choose. I don't think there's another installation our size with that number of and those kind of state-of-the art facilities for our kids.

Single Soldiers barracks: We've got an ongoing multi-year barracks improvement program that's pumping $221.5 million into Single Soldiers barracks. Many of those have been completely overhauled and they're like new. Our standard is "one Soldier, one room," A,A-- these heroes deserve nothing less for the service and sacrifice they have given our country. By 2012, more than half of our barracks will have been upgraded to this standard, and we're seeking funding to complete the second half.

One of my favorite places in the area -- Toledo Bend Recreation site, about 40 miles from Fort Polk -- last year received $200,000 worth of new Triton bass boats and pontoon barges, a beach with sand, four new cottages, a dozen trailers for lodging. There's more in the works: A $750,000 RV park that will help make the rec site one of our area's most attractive destinations.

There's more. Over the next few years we'll be constructing a VA clinic at Fort Polk; a privately-owned Staybridge Suites; a $1.8 million military working dog facility; a $750,00 splash park for our Families, set to open in May; a $9.9 million 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division headquarters (time to get them out of Camp Polk's headquarters); a $6.1 million School Age Services Center and more.

We are also actively seeking funding for several approved concepts: A putt-putt golf course, projected to cost $750,000; batting cages for our youth, projected cost is $475,000; and a children's arcade (more on that as costs are projected and funds approved). We know that recreational opportunities on Fort Polk are important to our Soldiers and Family members. These projects are yet another example that we are listening - that the Army Family Covenant is working for you.

Also on our priority list is the readiness of our Soldiers as they continue to put themselves in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've invested more than $206.5 million in new construction that directly impacts our ability to deploy. Completed is our alert holding area, railhead facilities, hazardous cargo apron and expansions at England Air Park.

On the agenda are a $39 million Warrior Transition Unit; and $4.5 million Soldier and Family Assistance Center. And, our community partners at Alexandria International Airport plan $20 million worth of projects which will help us maintain our status as one of the Army's premier power projection platforms: runway renovation and extension; new fuel farm; noise mitigation; and a 70-room temporary lodging facility.

Perhaps the most significant progress we're making is with our local leaders off post in giving our Soldiers and Families what they want in their communities. We are fully partnered with our community officials as they pursue initiatives to add to our quality of life in Vernon and Beauregard parishes. We're concentrating on four separate yet inter-related strategies: Education, economic development, quality affordable housing and the land purchase program which I mentioned at the beginning of this column. That partnership has brought about some exciting initiatives that will positively impact your well-being within our local community.

Just a small snapshot of some of what's going to develop this year:
The Vernon Parish Police Jury has matched a $120,000 grant to help develop a plan that will focus on land use, infrastructure requirements, housing and transportation.

A Growth Management team has been formed to examine all impacts of growth of our installation. About $150,000 has been funded by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to hire a planner for this team.

A contingent of Fort Polk, state and local leaders attended a conference a few months ago at Fort Drum, N.Y. to develop a plan based on the successes of the 10th Mountain Division and its local community of Watertown. Governor Bobby Jindal will soon be briefed on recommendations for state-level actions as a result of this trip.

Vernon Parish has received a $2 million grant that will aid military children over the next three years throughout all six area schools.

Vernon Parish school officials have committed to pursuing funding for a $20 million complete renovation of Leesville High School scheduled to begin this summer. Also announced is a $2 million project to construct walls at South Polk Elementary School, so our children no longer have to learn in the "open" environment created by a failed 1970s idea.

$600,000 has been funded by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to develop a Vernon Parish transportation plan.

$20 million has been funded for U.S. 171 reconstruction of concrete and asphalt

And $26.9 million is dedicated to the final leg of construction of the four lane on Hwy. 20 to Alexandria. This is a strategic corridor between us and England Air Park. The total cost of the project from Leesville to Alexandria: $134 million.

This is a great time to be a member of the Army Family, and a great time to live on Fort Polk as we continue to perform the critical missions given to us by the Army. We're fortunate to live on an installation that is vital to our Army; an installation undergoing increased investment unlike any time in our history. I call it a "perfect storm" of good decisions and targeted resources that are allowing us to achieve an unprecedented increase in quality of life both on and off post. This is our Home of Heroes, and you deserve every bit of it.

These are exciting times for Fort Polk -- it's an honor to be here with you. Thanks for your service. Your welfare, well-being and quality of life will continue to be my top priority. We are delivering on the promise, and we'll continue.

Page last updated Fri February 19th, 2010 at 11:03