FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Soaring above the skies in a CH-47 Chinook, leaping from The Sabalauski Air Assault School’s rappel tower and range training with 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) makes for an action-packed day, but business and community leaders came ready to experience it all Sept. 28 during a Nashville Leaders Tour of Fort Campbell.
Ralph Schulz, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army and president and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, has been working with Fort Campbell since fall 2019 to organize tours and strengthen the relationship between the two communities.
“We want people to know what an exemplary installation this is in our area and how much it needs to be a part of the way they think about Nashville,” Schulz said. “We’re looking to build those connections between Nashville and Fort Campbell to the point that it doesn’t feel like a connection anymore, but part of what Nashville is.”
When local communities understand how the installation works, they are better prepared to assist Soldiers and Families, said Suzy Yates, Community Relations Officer, Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office.
“Many of our Soldiers live in the local communities,” Yates said. “Providing a day like today where community leaders can get a glimpse into life as a Soldier can provide invaluable perspective and generate ideas of how we can better support those who defend our freedom together.”
Each stop allowed the tour group to engage with Soldiers and see their skills firsthand, from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) aircraft displays to a water survival demonstration at the Allison Aquatics Training Facility.
“We have everything you can probably think of on Fort Campbell,” said Cory Wingfield, transition services specialist, Transition Assistance Program, or TAP. “There are over 300 military occupational specialties on Fort Campbell alone. If we close the gates, we’re self-sufficient for a very long time.”
Anne Fugate, Fort Campbell’s TAP manager, said those skill sets make transitioning Soldiers valuable assets for employers and there are many looking for work. More than 4,500 Soldiers transition out of the Army from the installation each year, and approximately 31% of them remain in the area.
“If they’re 23 years old and they’ve been leading four peers, when they leave the service, they understand how to lead a small shop or a small section of a civilian [company],” said Col. Andrew Q. Jordan, Fort Campbell garrison commander. “They know how to show up to work on time, and if you give them a task, they know how to complete that task and pass conditions and standards. That’s what we preach to them all the time, and that’s how I see us connecting with the local communities.”
Erin Hitchens, director of economic development, Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, said she is impressed with the Soldiers she met throughout the day and would encourage other business leaders to participate in future tours.
“Workforce development is the biggest issue we’re facing,” Hitchens said. “We have tons of companies that are looking to hire people, so if we could form a pipeline or some sort of connection to the Soldiers who are leaving base, based on the caliber of who I’ve met today any company would be lucky to have them.”
Nick Cunningham, regional consultant, Middle Tennessee Economic Development, Tennessee Valley Authority, said the tour is also an effective way to learn more about how the installation operates.
“It was informative and fun at the same time, and it’s beneficial to have both of those things at once,” Cunningham said. “I really enjoyed getting to learn about not just the 101st, but each of the tenant units that are here, how they work together and being able to meet people in their leadership to give more context to what we hear about Fort Campbell.”
By providing tour groups with that knowledge and a glimpse of the Soldier experience, the Nashville Leaders Tour plays a key role in the installation’s outreach efforts, said Lt. Col. Kevin James, G-3 information officer.
“In the 22 years now that I’ve been in the Army – in Europe, Asia and throughout the U.S. – I have not seen a more positive relationship than the one that exists here between Fort Campbell and the communities in the surrounding areas,” James said. “Now we’re extending more of the reach down into Nashville. And strengthening that reach benefits everybody … when this community is sent somewhere to do something, we need the community outside the gates to be there to help us.”