By Mr. Stephen Standifird (Leonard Wood)March 3, 2015
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Miss. (March 3, 2015) -- More than 2,100 people from local communities filled Nutter Field House to standing-room only capacity during Fort Leonard Wood's Community Listening Session, March 2.
The Community Listening Session, hosted by Fort Leonard Wood and the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, provided a forum for the community and elected officials to express their concerns over the proposed cuts in manning and employment to the installation that would be triggered by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Under that guidance, proposals are to reduce the active component Soldier population from 570,000 to 490,000 by the end of this fiscal year.
A worst-case scenario for Fort Leonard Wood would be losing 5,400 Soldier and civilian jobs that, said Joe Driskill, executive director of the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, adding that it would greatly affect the local economy.
"It would be very hard for this region to make up for the losses," Driskill said.
Sustainable Ozarks Partnership is a nonprofit organization that focuses on the Laclede, Phelps, Pulaski, and Texas county region directly surrounding Fort Leonard Wood. According to their website, the organization functions as the central point of contact for regional partners, fosters the region's continuing commitment to national defense and advocates for local and regional development initiatives, as well as Fort Leonard Wood sustainment and growth.
Major Gen. Leslie Smith, commanding general for Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood, offered some perspective on the proposed restructuring to the multitude in attendance.
"The Army has to make hard choices," Smith said. "But the numbers are not definitive."
Smith also commented on the communities' support to Fort Leonard Wood. "There is no other place that loves their Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines as they do at Fort Leonard Wood and the surrounding communities," he said.
Other attendees included elected officials in the Missouri State and federal government, including U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill, Armed Service Committee, and Roy Blunt; U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, House Armed Services Committee, and Gov. Jay Nixon.
They were joined by 23 of the 34 Missouri state senators, and nearly 30 percent of the Missouri House of Representatives, who made the trip from Jefferson City.
Representing the U.S. Army from the Pentagon was Col. Karl Konzelman, chief of the Army Force Management Division, G 3/5/7 at the Headquarters, Department of the Army.
"We owe you nothing less than transparency, and you should expect nothing less from us," Konzelman said. "We're going to listen to what you have to say so we can take those comments back to the Department of the Army, so we can package them for the secretary and chief of staff so they are armed with all this information that they need to make these critical decisions."
Listening is about all the representatives from the Army could do, as several presentations were given, laying out how important the installation is to the local community, Missouri and the Army.
McCaskill, Blunt, Hartzler and Nixon focused on the unique and cost-effective training that Fort Leonard Wood offers.
"Things happen here that just don't happen the same way anywhere else," Blunt said.
"This is one of the premier training facilities in the military," McCaskill said. "Remember this important fact, Fort Leonard Wood has the lowest direct cost for training of all the Army's Training and Doctrine Command installations."
Konzelman said that this reduction in force is more than just numbers. It is men and women who are in uniform, civilians who support the Army, and something that the Army officials need to get right.
"I assure you that they take this very seriously, and it is something that concerns them greatly," Konzelman said. "We hear you Fort Leonard Wood, we do."