Last Modified: Saturday, September 14, 2013 12:00 PM
Fort Polk officials got an inside look at some of the available education and job opportunities Southwest Louisiana has to offer on Friday, an important aspect given the Army’s continued downsizing, Fort Polk Progress Chairman Michael Reese said Friday.
Over the next five years, the Army is being reduced from more than 550,000 soldiers to 490,000 soldiers because of the Budget Control Act of 2011. Fort Polk was expected to lose more than 5,000 soldiers, but so far has only lost 243, Reese said.
He said the local tour was necessary so former soldiers know the areas where they can consider pursuing careers, especially if more cuts are made with sequestration.
“It’s really the first step in the process of educating the military community of all the great quality-of-life opportunities there are for soldiers in the Lake Charles community,” Reese said. “As soldiers exit the service, this will be a great opportunity for (them) to consider retiring in Louisiana.”
Reese said Fort Polk contributes more than 21,000 jobs in the central part of the state and 6,000 jobs in the southwest region.
He said Fort Polk has “the single largest economic impact of any single employer” in the state, with a 2012 output of $1.76 billion in central Louisiana and $507 million in Southwest Louisiana.
Brig. Gen. William Hickman, commander of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, said Fort Polk has the “premier training center in the United States Army.” Recently, more than 6,000 soldiers from several Army installations around the country were trained at Fort Polk, and some will return next month to complete additional training.
“It’s going to cost them a little more money to come back, but it just says something about the facilities we have there,” Hickman said.
He said he remains focused on telling state and federal leaders about “the needs of Fort Polk’s family members and soldiers.” He said some of that has already been done with new roadways and a plan to remodel nearby schools like Leesville High.
“That’s through education and infrastructure needs and recreation to make the area around Fort Polk attractive to our military families and our single soldiers,” he said.
The Southwest Louisiana Entrepreneurial and Economic Development Center was the last stop during the tour. Hickman said the SEED Center’s interactive Innovation Lab appeals to younger college students and could benefit soldiers who are recent high school graduates.
“We’ve got the same population of 18-24-year-olds who join the military,” he said. “We can use some of these ideas on how we train our young soldiers.”
During the presentation, Wade Shaddock, a retired colonel, received the chamber’s first Meritorious Service Award for his continued support of the U.S. military. Shaddock is a graduate of West Point and a Vietnam War veteran.
McNeese State University President Philip Williams said Shaddock was crucial in creating a “curriculum of partnership” between the university and Fort Polk. He said Shaddock pushed to have McNeese and Fort Polk work more closely together.