At a news conference at MidCoast Regional Airport Monday, Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson pledged to keep Fort Stewart on the Department of Defense’s front burner.
Chambliss and Isakson promised they would work toward acquiring additional troops for the post, as well as financial assistance for a local economy hit by the DoD’s decision not to establish a fifth brigade on Stewart.
“Trying to overturn that (DoD) decision is pretty impossible,” Chambliss said.
The state’s senior senator said officials can look at long-term and short-term solutions for “thickening gaps” and adding more soldiers to the troops already assigned to Fort Stewart.
“In the short term, we can grow an additional 1,000 troops,” he said. “Over the long term, the U.S. Army will recruit a projected 22,000 new soldiers in the next three years.”
Chambliss pointed to the Quadrennial Defense Review, a DoD study that reviews military strategy, programs and resources, due to be completed next year. He expects it to name stateside bases slated to receive some brigades now stationed in Europe.
“There will be competition,” he warned. “But we feel that Fort Stewart is in the top echelon to receive these brigades.”
“All 15 members of the Georgia delegation are united in this,” Isakson added.
Isakson and Chambliss also stressed that Georgia’s elected representatives are striving to acquire financial assistance for Hinesville and the surrounding area. The senators said they understand the need to help local governments and private developers recover financially from having invested in anticipation of the now nonexistent fifth brigade.
“We’re exploring every avenue,” Chambliss said.
The senator said although Hinesville was “more severely impacted” than other military communities across the nation that were also in line for additional troops, it still must compete with those communities for federal assistance.
He added that financial assistance for the private sector is “being evaluated.”
“We’ll do what we can,” Chambliss said.
The senator did break the news that 276 family housing units in the Marne Terrace development slated for renovation are now scheduled to be demolished. Units will not be rebuilt on those sites, he said.
“So, there’ll be 276 houses that folks will be looking for off-post,” Chambliss said.
Paul Andreshak, executive director for Friends of Fort Stewart, said the U.S. Army rarely is able to house more than 25 percent of its married soldiers on its posts.
“I don’t think you’ll see the Army trying to house everyone anymore,” Andreshak said. “Many of these housing units were built in the 1970s. It took time to knock them down and replace them.”
Andreshak said, in his opinion, the $75 million in potential financial assistance that Rep. Jack Kingston has been trying to wrangle through Congress, will likely end up as a “government-to-government proposition.”
He said he believes cities and counties will be eligible for federal recovery money, but that private investors would likely be compensated in the form of loans.
“The only thing that is going to make the private sector whole is (more) people,” Andreshak said.
His organization met with Chambliss and Isakson, along with numerous local officials such as Mayor Jim Thomas of Hinesville and Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown, prior to the senators’ press conference. The media were not allowed into that meeting.
The senators held the press conference after spending the morning touring Fort Stewart and speaking to soldiers.
“We were glad to have our two U.S. senators see how our soldiers live, how they work,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III.
The general said Chambliss and Isakson were shown “every type of barracks” and had the opportunity to speak with soldiers during their concentrated tour, along with viewing ongoing construction at Fort Stewart aimed at alleviating crowding on post.
“It is our duty to keep Congress informed,” Cucolo said. “We tried to be as candid as we could. I wanted all their questions answered.”