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Troop Reductions Mostly Spare Ft. Polk

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Sue Lincoln
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Leesville residents are breathing sighs of relief, as across-the-board troop reductions have mostly spared Ft. Polk.

“It shouldn’t hurt us too much,” Elmer Phillips said.

Ft. Polk is losing 388 soldiers, but the worst-case scenario would have cut 6500 troops from the military base in west-central Louisiana. The U.S. Army is reducing forces by 40,000 worldwide.

“We just did not want to lose these troops,” Beryl Ford said, visibly relieved.

Ft. Polk is home to the Joint Readiness Training Center, which prepares National Guard units for overseas deployments. In addition, it is home base for the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division.

Phillips says the base is why he lives in Leesville.

“Ft. Polk is a great, great place for soldiers. As a disabled veteran, I can attest to that.”

Like many communities near military bases, Leesville relies on soldiers to fuel its economy. So do many of the parishes surrounding the base.

“If there was to be a big reduction, it would hurt Leesville and Vernon Parish,” Billy Davis observed. “And also Rapides Parish and Calcasieu Parish.”

“I don’t think people realize that Ft. Polk is the largest employer in the state,” Ford added.

A long-time Leesville resident, Ford says the troops stationed at Ft. Polk – and their families – greatly enhance the quality of life for all of Vernon Parish.

“This is where they live, where they shop,” Ford said, with enthusiasm. “And we really welcome them into our churches and our schools.”

The retired schoolteacher notes that children of the troops stationed at Ft. Polk attend the local public schools, rather than going to school on base. And the Army provides teachers for the Vernon Parish school district, as well.

Louisiana’s congressional delegation issued several statements praising the Army’s decision to minimize troop reductions at Ft. Polk. But their pleasure can’t compare to that of the folks in Leesville.

As Ford put it, “We’re all behind the military here, and they make our community.”