By Chuck Cannon, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerFebruary 24, 2012
FORT POLK, La. (Feb. 28, 2012) -- Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment Katherine Hammack visited Fort Polk, getting a first-hand look at the west central Louisiana post's recycling efforts, as well as improvements made in Soldiers' barracks and an elementary school.
Hammack also visited Fort Polk's Warrior Transition Unit barracks, Picerne Military Housing community centers and the new Veterans Administration cemetery and clinic, before ending her trip, which began with breakfast at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, with a briefing and lunch at Fort Polk's Warrior Community Center.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was to accompany Hammack on the tour, but inclement weather forced the senior Louisiana senator to cancel. Mark Herbert, Landrieu's regional manager from Lake Charles, represented Landrieu, who sits on Senate appropriations, energy and natural resources, and homeland security and governmental affairs committees. Also representing Landrieu were Ross Nodurft, military projects assistant and Maj. Jason Kalin, military fellow.
Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Commander Brig. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, Fort Polk Garrison Commander Col. Roger Shuck and Fort Polk and JRTC Command Sgt. Maj. Lamarquis Knowles joined the visiting dignitaries, who included staff from Hammack's office and local leaders.
While visiting South Polk Elementary School, Hammack was shown improvements to the school that until recently sported open classrooms, making it difficult for students to learn. The layout was an experiment during the 1970s that supposedly provided a better learning environment for youngsters. However, studies proved that instead of making it easier for students to learn, it made it more difficult for students to focus on what took place in their classroom.
Hammack was also briefed on plans to continue improving the school's physical plant -- provided funding is received from the federal government. Hammack told Vernon Parish School Board president Jackie Self it is important to get local communities involved in paying for school improvements. She said funds for improvement projects are limited.
"We really need the community to know that we only have so much money and we want to help out as many communities as possible," Hammack said.
The next stop on Hammack's visit was a trip to Palmetto Community Center. While at the center, Hammack was briefed by Sara Thames on Fort Polk's Heritage Tour program and shown a film highlighting the families who were displaced during the creation of Camp Polk in the 1940s. Thomas told Hammack about efforts today to show the displaced families how much they are appreciated for their sacrifices.
"Have you found that those families who were displaced now look more favorably on Fort Polk?" Hammack asked Thames.
"Yes, very much so," Thames said.
"I guess sometimes it just takes saying thanks," Hammack said.
During lunch at the Warrior Community Center, Stephanie Sarver, garrison plans, analysis and integration chief and co-leader for Fort Polk's Net Zero Waste Program, gave a briefing on the program's accomplishments.
"We are currently diverting 40 percent of our waste stream," Sarver said. "And we're working with the Public Affairs Office to get the word out about reducing and diverting waste on social media and local media sites."
Hammack asked Sarver how much recycling costs Fort Polk. Sarver said nothing, that recycling pays for itself.
"Good," Hammack said. "I want every member of Congress to hear that. Hearing it first-hand is great. Good job."
Lt. Col. William Chlebowski, strategic communications officer for JRTC and Fort Polk, closed the luncheon by discussing that Fort Polk leaders are working to integrate more with local communities. He spoke about potential development along La. Hwy 467 near the new VA cemetery and clinic and land purchase efforts. He told Hammack that the first piece of the land purchase program, near Peason Ridge, was closed this week.
Nodurft, who handles military affairs for Landrieu, said there had been a lot of support in the local community for the land purchase. Chlebowski said Fort Polk representatives have been open about what they wanted to do.
"I think that helped build support," he said.
Chinn said acquiring new land was importantor home station units, such as the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
"Our home station units really need the space to train," Chinn said. "It's important to everyone. When rotational units are here training, which is 11 months out of the year, the 4/10 and other home station units are not able to use the training areas."
Chlebowski also pointed to Fort Polk's uniqueness, including:
• The only active land purchase program in the Army
• An airfield capable of handling MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles
• A hospital -- Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital -- that has one of the highest patient satisfaction rates in the Army
• Modern rail yard and the capability through Alexandria airport to handle up to 23 C-17 transport aircraft at once
• Battalion live-fire capabilities
• 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade's mission as the lead responder for the Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Force, the No. 1 priority in the Department of Defense
• Unmatched community support, as evidenced by the ticker-tape parade through downtown Leesville following the return of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigad from deployments
• A first-hand look at 50 percent of all deploying Brigade Combat Teams (44,000 Soldiers) each year
• A transient population of 4,000-7,000 Soldiers per month
• The lead in security forces assistance training, the No. 1 priority in Operation Enduring Freedom.
After comments from local economic development leaders on the cooperation between Fort Polk and local leaders, Herbert spoke for Landrieu.
"I'm continuously impressed with the effort and support of local leaders, and General Chinn for his ability to communicate with the local communities," Herbert said. "We remain committed to supporting and encouraging that support."