There can be no doubt that Fort Stewart/HAAF is the major economic engine in the region. At last calculation, the annual value of the base was placed at $5.4 billion.
With more than 8,000 3rd Infantry Division soldiers currently deployed from Fort Stewart and another 2,000 from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team having just left during of the last month in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the local economy already is feeling the effects.
Not that frequent deployments are new to this community. However, now that the Army faces losing 10 percent of its discretionary budget, our region could be hit even harder.
Further worrying the local community is the announcement that sequestration would take effect. This shortens the workweek for the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian workers, which in effect means a 20 percent reduction in pay for these folks for up to 22 weeks, starting in late April.
Statewide, we are talking a reduction of $931 million with 17,163 jobs affected, as published in the recent Budget Uncertainty Impact on the U.S. Army, State-by-State Comparison from Army Program Analysis and Evaluation. The jobs affected include DA Civilian furloughs, jobs lost due to reduced military investments, reduced MILCON (military construction), decreased DEPOT operations and reduced Base Operations.
The Army will have to make tough choices regarding force structure cuts in the days and weeks ahead, and while as good Americans we support those efforts, we also want to ensure that the Army considers all available information before making a final decision.
Participation in an organization like the Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart & Hunter is essential to maintain the momentum of growth and excellence as we enter into a critical time in the realignment of forces within the Department of Defense and, in particular, the Department of the Army based in Georgia.
There are those who would say the future is not going to be determined by organizations like Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart & Hunter, but we have proven over the last 14 years that continuous information flow nets results. Conversely, if we do nothing, we will receive nothing, as this is our chance to shape the future.
In the top of our minds at this point should be the question: What would we do if Base Realignment and Closure comes to our region? Standing passively by is not an alternative. We must actively engage our legislators at the federal level and ensure that the Army leadership in the Pentagon has all the information necessary to make positive decisions about increased placement of soldiers at the Army’s premier power-projection platform.
Losing 3,000 soldiers on a permanent basis could be detrimental to our continued economic growth in this region, as not only do we lose those soldiers, but we also would lose the family members who go along with those troops. Just reviewing current Liberty County revenues can show you the effects that already are being felt in spite of millage-rate increases. It recently was reported that the county has only been able to collect 45.98 percent of the projected amount for this time of year in local-option sales tax.
Now is the time to act. Join the movement to keep our region solvent and invest in the Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter today at friendsoffortstewartandhunter.com.
Andreshak is the director of Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter.
Eusebio is the public-information assistant for Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter.