Community rallies to stop job cuts at Fort Leonard Wood

May 1, 2013

Members of the communities surrounding Fort Leonard Wood gathered Tuesday to discuss the U.S. Army proposal to remove troops from the fort. Under the proposal, the fort could lose as many of 4,000 of its troops.
Credit Katy Mersmann / KBIA

A U.S. Army plan for possible personnel cuts at forts with more than 8,000 stationed troops could mean removing troops from Fort Leonard Wood in southern Missouri.

Hundreds of members of the communities surrounding Fort Leonard Wood gathered Tuesday night to discuss the proposed cuts and the effect it could have on the economy of the area. The fort currently trains somewhere between 80,ooo and 90,000 soldiers per year, but now that number could be decreased by as many as 4,000 troops.

Along with community members, attendees at the meeting included Brig. Gen. Mark Inch, commanding general of the fort, representatives from Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt’s offices, Lt. Col. Trish Tilson, a member of the Army’s Office of Strategy, Plans and Policy, and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler.

Hartzler’s father did his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood and she says she believes the number of veterans who move back to the area are an indication of its success.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler discusses the effect removing troops could have on the economy of the surrounding counties. Hartzler’s father went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood.
Credit Katy Mersmann / KBIA

Mitch Morgan is one such veteran. He now works in Lebanon, just outside of the fort, laying asphalt. He says a majority of his work is either on or related to the fort and that’s part of why the cuts could be so damaging.

“I did basic training here many years ago and it’s still as good as it ever was,” he said. “[My] two sons went to basic here and it’s still an elite place. I think we need to keep it wide open and growing.”

George Lauriton is the principal at Partridge Elementary and he worries about how the cuts could affect veterans like Morgan.

“My concern is the retirees and the active duty that own homes here,” he said. “If they had this draw down, they wouldn’t have enough people to buy those homes and there’d be a significant impact.”

Members of the Waynesville R-VII are concerned about the impact of losing so many students if their parents are transferred away from the fort.

Louise Garzelli taught in the area for 30 years and served on the school board for 12. She says the children of military families help provide fresh perspectives in the classroom.

“They keep us going,” she said. “We want the military to stay right here. In teaching it enriches the classroom. You start to a place and they’ve already been there and they bring a lot of interest into our school, so we love the military.”

The Army released estimates that the proposed troop cuts at Fort Leonard Wood would result in a loss of about 4,800 jobs in the area surrounding the fort, as well as a total decrease in income of about 169 million dollars per year.

The future of Fort Leonard Wood is still undecided. Senators McCaskill and Blunt sent a joint letter April 29 to U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh, urging him to avoid cuts at the fort.

This story originally aired as part of Business Beat, a weekly program about business and economics in mid-Missouri.