Folks may not recognize it, but we are experiencing the biggest growth and improved quality of life that Fort Polk has seen since it was established in 1941.

Cathy and I were delighted when we found we were coming here. Our installation had previously been known as an austere training base where units came for three or four weeks, conducted an arduous training exercise and then redeployed home. Until a few years ago, we didn't have deployable units stationed here, save for a company or two. So in the Army's eyes, Fort Polk was an economy of force for years.

But that's all changed -- take a look for yourself, you'll like what you see. Fort Polk is a great post - and getting greater; our future has never looked brighter.

In April of last year, there was a huge decision to give Fort Polk more than $220 million of the Army's $420 million in discretionary funds for refurbishment - no other installation got near that amount. Those funds, along with significant other funding decisions, are being spent all around us. Take a look around. Get in your car and check out the installation. Almost everywhere you go, you'll see construction or renovation. Among our recent and upcoming projects are:
Fort Polk Family housing: Picerne Military Housing made the decision in 2004 to spend $240 million to refurbish or construct new military housing over a 10-year period. When you walk into some of that housing you can't believe your eyes. A 1,900-square-foot new home for a young E-1. What a boon to the quality of life for our married Soldiers and Families - and they deserve every bit of it.

We've got an ongoing multi-year barracks improvement program that's pumping almost $200 million into Single Soldier barracks. Many of those rooms have been completely overhauled and they're brand new. This has -- and will continue -- to improve our single Soldiers' quality of life.
About three years ago, $28 million was invested into a new Library and Education Center. A library on almost any other Army installation is an afterthought. Not here. Ours is the best I've seen in the Army. And in a move that makes sense, it's co-located with five universities offering meaningful degree programs to Soldiers and Families.

Fort Polk's got something for everyone:
Our Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation is on the move. In almost every facility they own, improvements have been made to structures and programs, all with our Soldiers and Family members in mind. The Stars and Strikes Bowling Center has been renovated, we have a Sparetime Lounge for our Soldiers, complete with flat screen televisions. Check out the Showboat Dinner Theater - only three posts in the Army even have a dinner theater. How about Wheelock Gym' I think that except for one or two, it's the best gym in the Army. Then there's my personal favorite - the Toledo Bend Recreation Site, about 40 minutes from Fort Polk. We just received about $200,000 worth of new Triton bass boats and pontoon barges, a beach with sand, four new cottages, a dozen trailers for lodging -- there are all kinds of activities. By the way, there are some monster bass in that lake - 85 miles of it from stem to stern.

Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital has been undergoing major improvements. Bringing a baby into the world is a major decision for military couples, and having the proper facilities is a huge factor in that decision. BJACH's new labor and delivery suite is top-of-the-line - higher than an industry standard. And, in this case, dads can't get out of the work of having a new baby -- there's a hide-a-bed situated in the corner of the suite. If you have older children, getting care for them is going to get a lot easier with the $6 million that's been invested into each of our three new Child Development Centers. These facilities will mitigate the wait times for parents registering their children.

In December, we broke ground on an Army and Air Force Exchange Service shopping center at Fort Polk. The 131,000-square-foot mall is set to open in early 2010, and will feature a 63,000-square-foot Main Exchange and other concessions -- including Starbucks. Built by the same company that built Fort Benning's PX, it will be much larger than our current facility.
We are growing the Army and we are growing Fort Polk. Of paramount importance to our Soldiers - and the relevance of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk to a 21st century Army - is the $200 million dollars invested in our ability to deploy. We've already completed our alert holding area, railhead facilities, hazardous cargo apron and expansions at England Air Park.

And we're not forgetting what our Soldiers and Families want in their local communities either. We are fully partnered with our community officials as they pursue initiatives to add to our quality of life in Vernon Parish. We're pursuing four separate yet inter-related strategies: education, economic development, quality affordable housing and the land purchase program (more on all of these in future Views from the Top.)

More than $700 million has been invested in Fort Polk between 2004 and 2011. I can't tell you another Army post of this size that's had that much money invested for improvements in such a short time period.

This is just a snapshot of what life is like today on Fort Polk - all indicators of our bright future in the years to come. Soldiers and Family members, you are absolutely magnificent. You deserve a quality of life that equals your level of service and sacrifice - and we're committed to providing that to you as part of the Army's covenant.
So, get out there, take a look around and spread the word. There's never been a better time to be on Fort Polk - we're great and getting greater!