Fayetteville mayor reflects on his city's growth into a 'Military Sanctuary City'
August 27, 2010
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - While other municipalities are adjusting to the closing of longtime neighboring military installations, Fayetteville is adjusting to a Fort Bragg that is staying and expanding.
One man who has witnessed the recent history of the relationship of between the city and the post is Mayor Anthony G. Chavonne, a lifelong resident and civic and business leader here.
Although the relationship is as good now as it has ever been, the mayor said it took work and mutual appreciation to overcome past misunderstandings.
Now the city of Fayetteville and Fort Bragg are committed to continuing to focus on community relationships to ensure high quality of life for Soldiers, Families and civilians.
Much of the credit for the good relationship goes to the efforts of Col. Stephen J. Sicinski, the Fort Bragg Garrison commander, the mayor said.
Sicinski has been very helpful in matters big and small, such as the process by which city limits were expanded, so that for the first time the main post is now entirely inside Fayetteville, he said.
"It was purely symbolic, since it did not mean any more taxes or police or anything like that," Chavonne said. "It was a powerful message to send."
Fort Bragg is the only major military installation without access to an interstate and in the last year, the garrison commander was a great help when the local community convinced the state to build a connection to Interstate 95, he said.
Another example of the spirit of cooperation, is the city's response to the post's shortage of clean, dependable water, Chavonne said. "Many local contractors have to provide their workers with bottled water."
The mayor said the city is building a brand new water pipeline onto Fort Bragg at no expense to the Army. "It is an example of what happens when we sit together to address a huge issue."
Chavonne said he became aware of the interactions between the two communities in the late 1960s.
At that time there was tension from the influx of individuals coming from all over the country to Fort Bragg, he said. "You have to remember, in that time, it was a mostly draft Army with many Soldiers who were not happy about being in the Army and were not happy about being sent to Vietnam.
"Now the Soldiers stationed here are volunteers - many of them double volunteers because they have also volunteered to be in the airborne," Chavonne said.
The hostile mood in Fayetteville was not different from the mood in the rest of the country, he noted.
"We had an increasingly unpopular war and a lot of other things going on," he said. "The American public was starting to lose confidence in the war, and, I think to be fair, many people inside the Army were losing confidence too."
Chavonne said although the tensions were real, he wanted to point out that the most notorious example of the problems, the vandalism of the post's Iron Mike statue, was not done by local residents.
"It is pretty well established that the vandalism was done by Soldiers on TDY (temporary duty)," he said.
The improvement in the relationship took time, Chavonne said. "It did not happen in 1969, or 1979, rather it was evolutionary."
If there was one turning point, the mayor said it was during the First Gulf War. "The Soldiers deployed and the Families left."
In addition to the loss of business, city residents had to accept that military Families did not feel comfortable staying in Fayetteville, he said.
At the same time, the Army realized that it could not effectively take care of Families if they were spread out all over the country, he said.
Chavonne said since the early 1990s, the relationship between the local community and Fort Bragg has continued to grow into what the mayor calls a "Military Sanctuary City."
"What that means is that here we understand," the mayor said.
"If I am a business owner, I understand that one-third of my workforce is married to someone who could be deployed. It is the same in the churches, the schools and all over that we get it," he said.
"The people of Fayetteville are committed to watch over those who watch over us," he said.
What makes the city different is that war is not political here, he said.
"Here, war is when our friends and neighbors have to go away to defend us-and they may have gone away three times in six years," he said.