U.S. Senators To Fort Stewart: Look For Long-Term Growth Options
Savannah Morning News
Pamela E. Walck
Department of Defense officials make up their minds, it's next to impossible to get them to reverse their decisions.
Especially when federal money is involved.
That was the message from Georgia's Republican U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson Monday on the chances of expanding the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart by a fifth brigade combat team.
That said, the senators praised the installation's leadership for their efforts to continue with expansion plans while vowing their full political support as the defense department decides where to relocate two European-based brigade combat teams in coming years.
"We know, from the discussions over the last few weeks and days, that Fort Stewart is in the Army's top echelon," Chambliss said. "And it is well-positioned for one of those brigades."
But, Chambliss said, there are no guarantees with a decision on where to locate the brigades expected in late November.
Earlier this summer, Hinesville business leaders voiced frustrations after spending tens of millions of dollars on defense department promises that plans to expand Fort Stewart by a fifth brigade were a "go." The plans were then scrapped due to defense budget constrictions.
Since then, Chambliss and Isakson have looked for ways to convince the defense department to reconsider the 280,000-acre installation near Hinesville as a potential home for expansion.
"There are not a lot of opportunities to make up that loss of 5,000 soldiers in the shortterm," Chambliss said. "We have to look more toward the longterm."
The senators said they take comfort in defense department plans to fill shortages in existing brigades, as well as to end a policy of keeping soldiers in active duty service after their contractual time is up.
"Fort Stewart will grow by 1,000-plus soldiers over the next few years" because of those two policy changes, Chambliss said.
At the same time, Isakson praised veterans affairs officials for a recent decision to expand a planned Hinesville VA clinic to include mental health services. The move will allow more military veterans to stay in the area for treatment rather than traveling to Savannah for medical assistance.
The clinic is slated for completion in late 2010 or early 2011.
Following a tour of Fort Stewart, both senators praised the installation and private contractors for a recent decision to raze some existing housing rather than renovate 276 out-dated military homes in the Marne Terrace subdivision.
"That's 276 families who will be looking for homes off-post," Chambliss said. "I can't say the exact day when this will happen or what type of houses they will be looking for ... but it will help the local economic mission."
Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, the 3rd ID's commanding general, said concerns about Marne Terrace came to light this summer, when a soldier moving into one of the on-post homes had a non-military family member start asking serious questions.
"That gentleman's comments were most appropriate," Cucolo said. "He was right to make an issue of it."
Initial concerns revealed widespread problems in the homes, including rotten wood and structural damages.
"We discovered it would be better to tear them down and build fewer new homes in that same area than it would be to renovate," Cucolo said.