Fort Polk, La. -- Team Polk,

Happy Belated New Year!!! We had a great year last year and were able to really push forward a lot of Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough and Col. Francis Burns initiatives that they started. We've made huge strides on the installation and within our partnerships with state and local leadership through teamwork and good communication. Sustaining, maintaining and improving our installation to make it the Best Hometown in the Army and the Home of Heroes is a team effort. Thanks for making a difference and continued support.

2012 will be a banner year for the JRTC and Fort Polk and central Louisiana as we continue to celebrate the return of our Soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq and press forward on new initiatives and programs to enhance the quality of life for our heroes, their Families, retirees and civilians at Fort Polk.

In 1941, when Camp Polk was created as a result of the Great Louisiana Maneuvers, Gen. George C. Marshall said, "I want the mistakes made down in Louisiana, not over in Europe, and the only way to do this thing is try it out, and if it doesn't work, find out what we need to make it work." Seventy years later, that idea is still at the forefront of the JRTC purpose: To train Soldiers, and save lives. That's the bottom line -- and our most important mission. Seventy years after its inception, Fort Polk is thriving, poised to grow and relevant to today's -- and the future's -- Army. This is due, in large part, to your support. Thank you.

If you haven't visited Fort Polk recently, you have a standing invitation; We think you'll love what you see. Tours are available of the Fort Polk garrison, but you can also see firsthand how today's Soldiers train by participating in a "box tour." We promise that will be an eye-opening experience for you, an opportunity to see for yourselves how -- and why--we want our Soldiers' worst day to be here rather than in a combat theater. You can request a JRTC and Fort Polk tour by accessing our web page at www.jrtc-polk.army.mil. On the right of the page you'll find a Box Tour 2012 link beneath the Community Action category.

Fort Polk unit roll-up

4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division: On Dec. 10, we "officially" welcomed home our 4-10 heroes, from their year-long deployment during the "I'll Be Home for Christmas" celebration and parade, sponsored by the Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce Dec. 10. Also honored were redeploying heroes from the 115th Combat Support Hospital, the 383rd Movement Control Team, 705th Explosive Ordnance Detachment and the 814th Engineer Company. The parade was a sight to behold -- with 4,000 Soldiers marching through downtown Leesville. Earlier in the day, our Soldiers and their Families (to the tune of around 6,000 people) enjoyed a feast prepared by the Chamber and volunteer business people throughout Leesville. Food included 3,600 pounds of brisket, 200 pounds of coleslaw, and a 784 pound cake. The parade was an outstanding event, much enjoyed by all of Fort Polk, and we appreciate the Leesville community for their support of Soldiers and Family members.
During the day-long celebration, we also bid farewell to 4-10 commander, Col Bruce Antonia and CSM Steve Womack, who led the Patriot Brigade Soldiers throughout combat in Afghanistan, and welcomed the new commander and command sergeant major, Col Mario Diaz and CSM Noe Salinas.

JRTC Operations Group: Ops Group most recently challenged the 1st Brigade Combat Team ("Devils in Baggy Pants"), 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C., with a number of realistic, relevant and rigorous rotation scenarios designed with a balance of lethal and non-lethal effects. Beginning this month, rotations will involve the training of Security Force Assistance Teams (SFAT), highly trained officers and NCOs who will advise and assist their Afghan counterparts (Army & Police) as they conduct security force operations. It's going to be a new way of doing business as the military looks to bring U.S. forces home from Afghanistan, but no less important than training a full-sized brigade combat team. The JRTC mission will remain the same: To train Soldiers, measured by missions accomplished and lives saved.

162nd Infantry Brigade: The 162nd Infantry Brigade will continue to train SFAT teams for Afghanistan which is a high priority mission for the Army. Training focuses on understanding and knowing the Afghan standard for both the Army and Police. The key to this training is to insure we train the advisors on the Afghan systems they use and what Afghan right looks like. Most important is how to keep the Afghan leaders in the lead to develop and Afghan sustainable system that will endure. After that training, the teams will undergo JRTC rotational training where they execute performance oriented training during STX lanes, live fire exercises and a full force-on-force culmination training exercise.

1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade: As you know, the 1st MEB has taken on the role of the Army's lead element in the Defense, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Response Force. Our nation can sleep soundly at night knowing that in the event of a natural disaster, or chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident, the 1st MEB is fully prepared and trained to deploy on a moment's notice anywhere in the nation. In early December, the unit participated in a massive exercise that tested its ability to deploy on a short time-line and handle a plethora of problems including crowd control, debris removal, life-saving operations and humanitarian assistance.

Community partnerships and economic development:

We are lucky to be living on Fort Polk, in central Louisiana, the Home of Heroes and the Best Hometown in the Army. It's our community partnerships that help make Fort Polk a place to call home, and we want to thank each of you for the investment you've made in our future. The best and strongest team is a sum of all its parts -- from the community leader to the family down the road that kept a yellow ribbon tied around the tree in their front yard.

Here are just a few highlights of what we've accomplished together:

Alexandria Airport Military Welcome Center
In August, Fort Polk, local and statewide officials celebrated the official opening of the Military Welcome Center at Alexandria International Airport -- of vital importance to service members who are arriving to Fort Polk for the first time. Launching the center was a real team effort. The executive director of England Airpark, Jon Grafton and Alexandria Airport Manager Scott Gammel, were instrumental in bringing this idea to fruition. First impressions are often lasting -- and it's important that our service members feel welcome and part of the team the minute they step off the plane. The welcome center also emphasizes to our Soldiers that patriotism is prevalent in CENLA.

On Sept. 15, Governor Jindal visited Leesville to announce $25.2 million in capital outlay and Community Development Block Grant funding on infrastructure improvements in the Fort Polk area over the next three years. The investment will allow for sewage and water for La. Hwy. 467, and two roads that will ultimately connect 467 with Highway 28. This is great news for our community as it will increase the potential for economic development along the University Parkway corridor.

A month later, in October, Fort Polk signed an Army Community Covenant with Governor Jindal and Rapides Parish leadership. The covenants we sign with our community neighbors aren't just pieces of paper. They are a symbol of the partnership and trust that are critical between Fort Polk and the surrounding communities -- they affirm our joint commitment to improve the quality of life for our Soldiers and their Families.

On Oct. 22, we hosted our fifth annual Heritage Day to honor the descendants of the people who originally lived on the land that became Fort Polk. In 1941, the U.S. government exercised its right of eminent domain, and homesteaders who lived on the land -- our Heritage Families -- were asked to leave their homes, sometimes forcibly evicted. Heritage Day is an opportunity for us to thank them for their sacrifices. The weekend event also gives Families a chance to access their original homesteads and cemeteries, places that were once restricted on Fort Polk. Fort Polk's Directorate of Public Works Environmental Resources Management Division has worked hard to preserve the history of Heritage Families. Besides collecting photos and artifacts, the oral histories of more than 300 of these Families have been documented.

October was a busy month for the installation. On the 27th the City of DeRidder hosted a dedication ceremony under the new flag pole recently installed in West Park. It was a poignant event -- COL Antonia and CSM Womack presented a flag that was flown in Afghanistan prior to the brigade's redeployment.

Polk Progress: We would like to make a special mention of Polk Progress, a six parish coalition of community leaders dedicated to ensuring that Fort Polk's economic footprint in the area flourishes and grows. Member parishes include Vernon, Beauregard, Sabine, Rapides, Allen and Natchitoches. The group's chairman is Mike Reese. Post officials work closely with Polk Progress because a thriving Fort Polk is a win-win situation for Central Louisiana. Over the last year, we have enjoyed working with Mike and Polk Progress. When we meet, there's a synergy present -- the kind of synergy that presents itself when caring people congregate to share and exchange ideas about common goals. Economic conditions in our country have been a challenge to many in the last few years, but at Fort Polk, in CENLA, we've been fortunate. Fort Polk is thriving. Come visit and take a look for yourself.

Thank you too, to Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, the adjutant general for the Louisiana National Guard, who retired in December after 14 years in that position. We've enjoyed working with him, and welcome the new TAG, Brig. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis.

There were numerous other events taking place on Fort Polk and within our communities -- and several of them involved some of the most valued members of our Army Family: Retirees. The installation hosted a Veterans Day ceremony in November, (a thank you to Rep. James Armes, who provided the keynote speech), a POW/MIA ceremony in September, with the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association leading the way in a ride to honor those service members imprisoned during an American conflict or missing in action, and we recognized the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. On Sept. 17, McNeese State University, in Lake Charles, hosted a Military Appreciation Day where many of Fort Polk's Soldiers and Family members were treated to a football game between the university's Cowboys and Sioux Falls University. Several months later, on Nov. 5, Northwestern State University hosted a Military Appreciation Day where we got to watch some more great football. Thanks to all of you in the community for what you do for the Soldiers and Family members of Fort Polk.

In December, we participated in the Department of Veterans Affairs Community Outpatient Clinic grand opening. We have spoken to a number of veterans who say this clinic was much-needed and is much-valued. In February, the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs anticipates opening the CENLA Veterans Cemetery. It's a beautiful, serene place -- a fitting tribute to our veterans who have sacrificed so much in service to the country.

We closed out 2011 by honoring one of Fort Polk's heroes: On Dec. 16, Sgt. Timothy Gilboe, from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest combat military decoration a Soldier can be awarded for valor in the face of the enemy. Sgt. Gilboe's actions saved the lives of two fellow Soldiers.

Into the future --

With education for our military students a top priority, we have more great news about our installation schools. The Department of Defense has allotted Fort Polk about $15 million for public school facilities on military installations. More to come on this, but we're looking to build a new school, possibly in the Highway 467 area, near the VA clinic. With the millions of dollars of renovations to Leesville High School on the horizon and the recent renovations completed at South Polk Elementary School, we are moving in the right direction to effect educational reform and innovation.

And with the $25 million in capital outlay announced by the Governor, there are limitless opportunities to develop the 467 corridor into an area that offers our Soldiers and Families the best in living, dining and recreation.

There's going to be a lot to tell you about in the future as Fort Polk continues to grow in the next few years with a new commissary, new headquarters building for the 4-10, a Splash Park for our Soldiers and Family members and more.

There are numerous ways you can keep yourself informed about what's going on at the JRTC and Fort Polk. We maintain two Facebook pages. On Facebook, do a search for "JRTC and Fort Polk" and "Fort Polk Guardian. Check out our web site at www.jrtc-polk.army.mil. Have yourself placed on the e-edition distribution list for the Guardian, our installation newspaper, by e-mailing polk.ci@conus.army.mil.

In closing, a special thanks to Brig. Gen. Jim Yarbrough and Col. Frank Burns for their leadership and friendship as the most recent commanding general and garrison commander of Fort Polk. Without their vision, Fort Polk would not be the Home of Heroes and the Best Hometown in the Army.

Page last updated Fri February 17th, 2012 at 00:00