For five years our nation’s defense budget has faced a period of unprecedented turmoil, jeopardizing investments in our nation’s defense infrastructure which are critical to sustaining missions, supporting military families and protecting our national security.
Austerity measures including the 2011 Budget Control Act, sequestration, the 2013 government shutdown, five episodes of planning for government shutdowns, and the use of temporary continuing resolutions rather than full-year budgets have seriously damaged the armed forces, their readiness and our military installations, including those here in Missouri. Added to this has been the plan to cut 40,000 soldiers from the Army over the next two years, including a reduction of an additional 774 jobs at Fort Leonard Wood on top of about 1,100 in 2013—for a total of almost 25% of uniformed positions. Without a rational plan from Congress to efficiently budget funds where they are most needed, this period of turmoil has consumed the Pentagon’s time and wasted precious resources.
Our nation’s defense infrastructure – its bases, facilities and training areas – is feeling the brunt of this indecision and uncertainty. So too are the communities, regions and states that steadfastly support our nation’s military bases and families. Here in the Fort Leonard Wood region we are coping with the economic impacts of a smaller Army, which seem inevitable in this environment. But as bad as the cuts have been, the inability of Congress and the President to agree on a budget and avoid another government shutdown could be even worse. During the 16 day shutdown in October 2013, many of our region’s small businesses were severely impacted, and some of them are just now recovering. Another shutdown on top of an already shrinking installation would be a bitter pill to swallow.
The existing fiscal environment has led us to a crossroads that will define the future of Fort Leonard Wood and the counties and cities of our region. The ongoing inertia of political indecision should not guide our strategy regarding the military or our installations. We need to make the tough choices that will move us forward on a path that will end turmoil and restore certainty.
The residents, local leaders and business community in Laclede, Phelps, Pulaski and Texas Counties know there is a better way. Strategic decisions, even tough ones, need to be made now to ensure our military infrastructure is ready to meet the many foreign threats that face our nation. On the home front, communities can overcome whatever obstacles come their way — even a future BRAC — but to be prepared, they need certainty and direction from policymakers willing to make difficult decisions.
The Sustainable Ozarks Partnership—an organization working to focus on those issues critical to the long-term sustainability of Fort Leonard Wood and our region—is building strong and effective partnerships with the Army, the state, our regional members, and others that will help provide needed support and advantages to our installation during these difficult times. However, we can only do so much.
Missouri’s members of Congress who represent the Fort Leonard Wood region—Senators Blunt and McCaskill, and Congresswoman Hartzler have been very supportive of Fort Leonard Wood, but we need more like them. We call on our national policy makers to recognize the great value Fort Leonard Wood and other military installations provide to our nation’s defense by passing a budget and keeping the government in operation. By doing so, they will also honor and benefit the service members, veterans, families and businesses that call the Fort Leonard Wood region home.
Joe Driskill, Executive Director
Sustainable Ozarks Partnership