As a community, we could not be more proud to play host to a major military installation. We have been blessed to have members of one of the Army’s finest divisions as neighbors and friends. We should never take this opportunity for granted.
As most in the business community know, Fort Stewart is facing many challenges with policy changes in Washington, D.C. First, we face decreased funding by way of sequestration. Stewart’s annual budget has been sliced by millions of dollars. Second, all military bases are likely to face BRAC in 2015, which could realign of thousands of troops here and elsewhere. Third, the Army is being reduced from its current 570,000 troop strength to 490,000. The Army’s end strength by 2017 will be 80,000 less than the current force. In short, we are in a fight.
Traditionally, larger cities like Columbus, Savannah and Augusta have not suffered the devastating effects of massive troop losses like their small-city counterparts. Having witnessed this firsthand in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, I am keenly aware of how severe a blow like this can be to a community like ours. Many of today’s Hinesville business owners do not know the depth and severity of such an action.
Years back, Friends of Southeast Georgia and Fort Stewart/Hunter was formed to support our military post and personnel, protect the private and public interests of this community’s investment in the growth of Fort Stewart, and protect that same interest through efforts in Washington, D.C. For purposes of discussion here, let’s focus on efforts in Washington.
It would seem that trips to the halls of Congress and the Pentagon would yield little, but that presupposition is not accurate. Through the aid of Washington consultants (funded by Friends of Southeast Georgia and Fort Stewart), Southeast Georgia has remained on par with other major cites who also host major military installations. Most military communities — and the businesses therein — understand the economics of a major military base. In short, they have mounted campaigns within their respective communities to increase their presence in Washington. Washington, perhaps like many other aspects of life, occasionally operates according to the “squeaky hinge syndrome.”
The tenacity of many elected officials — particularly Mayor Jim Thomas, Councilman Charles Frasier and Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway — has made a significant difference. No one has worked harder to defend Fort Stewart from sizable cuts than U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. Our Washington representatives at the firm of Hurt-Norton have steered us properly to key personnel at various levels of the Pentagon and Congress. Our community is being heard.
Most businessmen and women in this community have some connection to Fort Stewart. Some will suffer should Washington decide to cut Stewart by a brigade or more. Some people don’t believe this will happen, and I hope they are right, but there are no guarantees. We must continue our efforts as other communities are doing. The public-private sectors of major military communities have never been more active at the Washington level.
We need your support to continue the fight during one of our community’s most critical times. I ask that you consider joining and supporting Friends of Southeast Georgia and Fort Stewart/Hunter. There is a price-point for any level of interest and participation. Call Executive Director Paul Andreshak at 977-6202 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sikes is a director of Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter.