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LEESVILLE, La. — Athletic teams, cheerleaders, families, dance teams, civic groups and others lined the streets of Leesville to convince Army officials that Fort Polk is as important to the Army as it is vital to the area. People spilled out of the 1,500-seat church where the same officials heard the same message Monday evening from Louisiana and east Texas leaders and citizens.
The Leesville Daily Leader reports that speakers included U.S. Sens. David Vitter and Mary Landrieu, who spoke about the investments the government has made in improving the quality of life at Fort Polk, and U.S. Reps. John Fleming and Rodney Alexander.
Fort Polk is among 21 posts that could lose more than 1,000 soldiers as the Army eliminates at least 72,000 troops by the year 2020. It could lose 5,300 soldiers — nearly half of those posted there — or gain 1,000.
State Rep. James Armes noted that Vernon Parish opened its arms to an Army land acquisition program after other bases, such as Fort Carson, Colo., rejected it.
“The people of our area went to the plate, and partnered with you,” he said. “Not one bad remark was made at those meetings. When you want some improvements from our troops...we’ll spend every nickel and penny we have to help our troops.”
The gathering at the First United Pentecostal Church in Leesville was just one stop among many.
Officials will hold similar “listening meetings” at the other 20 bases facing downsizing, said Brig. Gen. Bill Hickman, commanding general of Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center. Congress would have to approve any proposal before it could be implemented. There is no timetable for a decision, he said.
Leesville Mayor Robert Rose was among dozens of state and local leaders who spoke.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, talked about tourism and recreational opportunities in and around Fort Polk. Sen. John Smith provided a statement about highway improvements made for the base.
Also attending were Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles and Reps. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans, John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, and Regina Ashford Barrow, D-Baton Rouge.
Lorusso and Edwards, who spent time at Fort Polk, Fort Irwin, Calif. and Fort Chaffee, Ark., spoke about their experiences at the base.