A conference to bring together community leaders to 'make a difference' in the lives of community residents was led by Maj. Gen. Peter Vangjel, U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, Friday at the Patriot Club on post.

The conference, or Southwest Oklahoma Community Partnership Council, was attended by 104 area civic, education, state, tribal and federal leaders to discuss topics of interest and to share information and to identify and solve potential issues and discover opportunities to benefit all.

The attendees included 21 senior leaders from Fort Sill, 18 area mayors, 18 senior educators, 16 representatives from various agencies within the state government, and 15 county, federal and tribal representatives.

According to Vangjel, the council, which will meet about every six weeks, will focus on making "our community be seen as the standard of cooperation and quality of life Army-wide and have it become the station of choice for all Department of the Army personnel."

The mission of the council is for Fort Sill and its partnered communities to engage each other to create, develop, achieve and sustain a high quality of life for their collective citizens, Soldiers and families, and to create an effective and consistent conduit for information flow between Fort Sill and the entire community.

"I think this council is long overdue," said Vangjel. "The reason we're here today is to ensure that the community is not only ready, but aware of all the other opportunities that are going to appear as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure move and that will be effective within the next few months.

"For this inaugural meeting we wanted to cast a relatively wide net and get those folks with influence within southwest Oklahoma here," said Vangjel. "I've got mayors and school superintendents. I've got the chairmen from some of the tribes here. We wanted to bring them all together and solicit their input and thoughts about what this body should be.

"We have a vision and a focus and we're going to let the members of the council think about it and vote on it over the next few weeks. We're going to get together again in six weeks to discuss a draft charter; and essentially what we want to do, is look to the future. How can we act together as a region to influence policy - in some cases in respect to what's going to be good for the civilian community' Also, what will work for us in terms of the Army Family Covenant and the Army Community Covenant' This is all an outgrowth of our commitment to reach the communities that are participating today because they want to help and they want to be a part of making the Army and their community a better place to live," said Vangjel.

"It makes perfect sense and quite frankly it's a cooperative effort between us representing the Army and southwest Oklahoma and every one of the communities that surround Fort Sill," he said
"As I listened to those here today, I could see part of this is an educational forum so that leaders can become aware of what is available out there. While a town might not have the influence, our intent is to regionally band together to bring more weight when we start to be considered for some of these things," said Vangjel. "Our intent is to learn what else is out there. I think there are opportunities and the key is that we can share information for mutual success."

According to Vangjel, the BRAC is alive and well and very favorable for Fort Sill.

After the initial meeting, Col. Robert Bridgford, garrison commander, briefed the attendees on the BRAC and the changes that would continue to take place on Fort Sill due to the BRAC.

"The good news is that construction is on track, from our FORSCOM Brigade to the 31st Air Defense Artillery and doing very, very well," said Vangjel. "Everything that has to do with the garrison and ADA School is moving very smoothly.

"We have everything aligned and we don't anticipate any glitches. We're already programming families and Soldiers and officers. We'll be moving them in here starting in the early spring and we project about 10,000 Soldiers, families and contractors moving into the community."

Vangjel said as the community numbers go up there will be some businesses and industries that are also going to come to the local area. "They'll be opening up branch offices. Some may be opening up factories and offices as well and I think the opportunity for additional personnel with specific skills will be coming for these industries in the great southwest Oklahoma area," he said. "It's not just about Lawton, it's really about Cache, Walters, Elgin, Medicine Park - places where people will be living all around the area.

"I think as we look at the move itself and BRAC bringing the Air Defense School here there are going to be a lot of opportunities for different skill sets and different technical abilities."

Comments from attendees included finding a way for communities to identify new citizens to ensure getting welcome packets to them, possibly funding a regional facilitator for state, local and federal opportunities in the region, and look at using stimulus dollars for some of the needs of the communities.