By Jim Smilie
Calling Louisiana the “most patriotic state in the nation,” Leesville Mayor Rick Allen stressed the importance of supporting military installations across the state during a speech Tuesday afternoon to the Rotary Club of Alexandria.
“We need to protect our military and their families,” Allen, who also serves as the chairman of the Louisiana Armed Forces Alliance (formerly Fort Polk Progress), said. “If we don’t support the military assets across the state, and one gets cut, we will never get it back.”
Allen referenced the closure of England Air Force Base in July of 1992. “You did a great job of recovering from that. England Airpark is stunning,” Allen said. However, it is nearly impossible to replace the economic impact of a military installation on the local economy. “Fort Polk has a $1.89 billion impact on Central Louisiana,” Allen said. “And it generates $75 million in tax revenue. We can’t afford to lose one penny of that.” Allen also noted that because of the military facility, the U.S. Federal Government owns 51 percent of the land in Vernon Parish.
Looking statewide, Allen said Louisiana has seen $214 million already this year in construction work at bases across the state. More than $3 million is expected to be spent locally in connection with the name change of Fort Polk to Fort Johnson. The formal renaming ceremony is scheduled for June 13.
“Sometimes it takes drastic change to get us out of the box to move forward,” Allen said. That was the case with the Fort Polk Progress organization, which was originally created in October of 2009 to support the military base in Leesville and try to avoid seeing the installation get on a Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) recommendation list. With last year’s announcement of the plan to rename the base, organizers took the opportunity to rebrand and expand their efforts to advocate and support all of the military installations in the state.
Of course, the Leesville base, which houses more than 8,400 soldiers, remains a top priority for the alliance. “This is a great opportunity to re-brand Fort Polk, which hasn’t always had the best reputation,” Allen said. “Fort Johnson will be the greatest military installation in the nation.”
Allen encouraged residents to become members of the Louisiana Armed Forces Alliance. Individual memberships are available for $100 and can be purchased online at https://louisianaarmedforcesalliance.wildapricot.org/Join-us.