Local leaders and supporters of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield have recommended an alternative plan to Fort Benning’s proposed expansion. Rather than have the Army buy roughly 83,000 acres to expand Fort Benning’s training area near Columbus, they suggest the Army consider transferring the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team to Fort Stewart.
This, they say, would save taxpayer dollars and make better use of military resources that readily are available at Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield.
The Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter recently sent a detailed letter to Fort Benning officials, who currently are accepting public comments on their Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the proposed land expansion.
“We’d really like someone to do a cost analysis,” Paul Andreshak, Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter executive director, told the Courier on Monday.
Andreshak added that a significant number of Stewart County residents are not in favor of the Fort Benning expansion. Some people there worry about losing revenue from property taxes and others are concerned about the possible noise produced by heavy military maneuvers during training exercises, according to a report by www.ledger-enquirer.com.
Since Fort Stewart previously was slated to receive a 5th brigade two years ago, the Army must have considered the installation adequate enough to receive more troops, Andreshak reasoned. The Department of Defense canceled the promise of a 5th brigade in July 2009.
“We’ve been working with Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter to assist in getting our 3rd Brigade here,” Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said. Thomas said he is not convinced Fort Benning will be able to acquire the land.
“We provide an easy alternative,” he said.
Thomas said Hinesville and Liberty County have infrastructure in place, such as water and sewer, to accommodate additional troops and their families, should another brigade be sent here.
The mayor added that local leaders and Andreshak’s group are working with congressional representatives to encourage the Army to transfer troops from Europe to Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield.
In April, U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Congressman Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, urged Army Secretary John McHugh to consider sending Fort Stewart a heavy brigade combat team that has been slated by the Defense Department to leave Germany and return to the United States in 2015.
Unfortunately, Andreshak said, other installations are competing to receive the same troops from Europe, including Texas’ Fort Bliss.
Andreshak said his group also is working to have a newly formed artillery brigade sent here. But, bringing the 3rd Brigade to Fort Stewart would, in his opinion, be the best option for both the Army and the Liberty County community, he said.
“In a period of declining defense budgets and potential future Army force reductions, adding more real property does not make sense,” reads Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter’s comment letter. “Relocation of the 3rd HBCT to Fort Stewart would reduce Fort Benning’s heavy maneuver training land shortfall by almost 75 percent and avoid many significant environmental impacts. The move would co-locate the 3rd Brigade with its parent division and provide it better access to Fort Stewart’s superior deployment facilities (proximity to ports).”
Andreshak claims Fort Stewart should be able to accommodate at least two-thirds of the 3rd Brigade’s troops, and if exercises on ranges are efficiently scheduled, then the installation could handle the additional training load.
He stressed a decision has not been made and it likely would be “a year or two down the road” before the Army approves or disapproves Fort Benning’s proposed land expansion.