WAYNESVILLE, MO—Over 130 community, business and government leaders, in the four county region neighboring Fort Leonard Wood, met on August 1st in Waynesville at the annual meeting of the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership (SOP).
The SOP meeting focused on strategies the regional group is pursuing to improve the quality of life in the region and ensure that Fort Leonard Wood continues its mission in the Missouri Ozarks. Given the likelihood of continuing Army budget reductions and force structure changes, the region faces significant challenges. Through SOP, regional leaders believe they can impact Army decisions by showcasing the region and focusing on issues that are important for Fort Leonard Wood’s sustainability. The participants are united together in determining how best to preserve and grow missions and jobs at Fort Leonard Wood and improve the quality of life, business climate and job opportunities in the region.
The keynote speaker at the SOP meeting commended the region for its united response to the challenges it faces. Mr. Tim Ford, CEO of the Association of Defense Communities (ADC), talked about what other base communities are doing around the nation to have positive impacts on their military installations. He pointed out that not only do base communities need to work together and with their installations, but they need to work together at the national level as well. He applauded the region’s intent to reengage with ADC and work with other defense communities. He said, “Together, we can make sure that the Department of Defense and Congress understand the importance of installations to military readiness.” Steve Tupper, SOP Chairman, expressed his appreciation for the national leadership that Tim and the ADC have provided. “We are glad that we are not alone in facing this formidable challenge.”
Major General Leslie Smith, the new Fort Leonard Wood Commanding General, also gave kudos to the gathered regional leaders. He said, “No other military community that I know of is as welcoming, friendly and giving as you are here in the Ozarks. We will gladly link arms and continue to work with you to make the region even better.”
Regional leaders believe that by working together on strategies that support the installation, they can have an impact on where the Army makes future cuts. In April, about 1,200 concerned citizens, business leaders and local officials responded by participating in a “Listening Session” with Army officials to explain why Fort Leonard Wood should be spared from large cuts. The Army was proposing cuts of up to 3,900 positions at that time.
In June the Army announced its final decision to restructure its forces and cut the number of uniformed and civilian workers at installations around the country, including Fort Leonard Wood. In total, Fort Leonard Wood is now slated to lose up to 885 positions, with the changes to be phased in through 2017. Additional cuts across the Army and other services are expected as the Pentagon continues to reduce the size and cost of the force.
Joe Driskill, the SOP Executive Director said, “We are able to show that the cost of living in our region is significantly lower than at most other Army installations, that the quality of services—especially education—is beneficial to Army families, and that the Fort has no encroachment issues that are common at many other installations. Our analysis also shows that our region and state are among the most cost-effective in the country. We think Defense leaders need to continue to see that we are taking strong actions to keep the Fort Leonard Wood region a best value for the military to do business.”
The Sustainable Ozarks Partnership (SOP) is a part of the Leonard Wood Institute (LWI), a non-profit organization located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. SOP focuses on sustainability strategies in the four counties neighboring Fort Leonard Wood. It identifies and helps implement major programs and projects that sustain and improve the quality of life and business climate in the four counties and enable continued growth of Fort Leonard Wood.