A U.S. Army plan for possible personnel cuts could significantly affect Fort Leonard Wood and the economy in the surrounding area.
The Army plan would cut personnel at forts with more than 8,000 stationed troops; Fort Leonard Wood could be affected by the plan. It trains somewhere between 80,000 and 90,000 soldiers per year, but personnel cuts could knock that number down by as many as 4,000 troops.
The Army released estimates that the proposed troop cuts at Fort Leonard Wood would result in a loss of about 4,800 jobs in the area surrounding the fort, as well as a total decrease in income of about $169 million per year.
About a thousand people filled a Fort Leonard Wood gymnasium Tuesday to hear about the proposed cuts and voice their opinions about how cuts could affect them.
Along with community members, attendees at the meeting included Brigadier General Mark Inch, commanding general of the fort; representatives from Senators Claire McCaskill's and Roy Blunt’s offices; Lieutenant Colonel Trish Tilson, a member of the Army’s Office of Strategy, Plans and Policy and Congresswoman Vicki Hartzler.
Hartzler’s father did his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, and she said she believes the number of veterans who move back to the area are an indication of its success.
Mitch Morgan is one such veteran. He works as an asphalt layer just outside the fort, in Lebanon, Mo. Although, he says the majority of his work is either on or related to the fort.
“I did basic training here many years ago, and it’s still as good as it ever was," Morgain said. "Two sons went to basic here, and it’s still an elite place. I think we need to keep it wide open and growing.”
George Lauriton is Principal at Partridge Elementary School, which is located in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Lauriton said he worries about how the cuts could affect veterans, like Morgan.
“My concern is the retirees and the active duty that own homes here and if they had this draw down, they wouldn’t have enough people to buy those homes and there’d be a significant impact,” Lauriton.
Members of the Waynesville R-VII School District are concerned about the impact of losing so many students if their parents are transferred away from the fort.
Louise Garzelli taught in the area for 30 years and served on the school board for 12. She said children of military families help provide fresh perspectives in the classroom.
“They keep us going," Garzelli said. "We want the military to stay right here. In teaching it enriches the classroom."
Senators McCaskill and Blunt sent a joint letter Monday to U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh, urging him to avoid cuts at the fort. though the fort's future remains uncertain.