Support for Fort Benning has surged after an official said Tuesday that only 50 comments have been submitted on an assessment calling for nearly 11,000 military and civilian job cuts on post.
The Chattahoochee Valley had voiced few concerns to the Army Environmental Command at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, since the Army released a Supplemental Environmental Programmatic Assessment on June 25. Fort Benning, home of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, is among 29 installations facing cuts by 2020 to trim the force to 420,000 soldiers from 490,000 under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
For the first time since the assessment was announced, area residents now are reading, listening and acknowledging the reality that the post could lose the 3rd Brigade, said Gary A. Jones, executive vice president of military affairs with the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
The post could lose a total of 10,767 jobs with soldiers accounting for 9,493 and civil service workers losing 1,274 positions. The 3rd Brigade is made up of 4,100 soldiers.
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To increase responses for Fort Benning, Jones called on grocery store chains, banks, credit unions, car dealerships, apartments, hotels, chambers of commerce, or convention and visitors bureaus, Midtown Medical or hospital associations to start a petition drive.
“I would have a huge petition signing and passing it around to let everybody know that we want to keep the 3rd Brigade,” Jones said. “As we go forward to try to defend the 3rd Brigade staying here, this chamber of commerce will go forward with that. If there is a low reflection of concern, we have less flexibility. If there is a high reflection of concern, we have more validity. By having a low response, we are sending a very clear message. That message is we are not concerned.”
Jones and Columbus businesses have joined efforts to boost responses to the assessment before the Aug. 25 deadline.
The chamber has compiled an online letter where supporters of Fort Benning may sign and email a form letter to the U.S. Army Environmental Command where all responses will be presented to Army leadership.
Jack Pezold, owner of 14 McDonald’s in the Columbus and Phenix City area, said the community can’t afford to lose more than 10,000 good jobs on the post. “Fort Benning has been so good for Columbus and we need to do something for Fort Benning,” he said.
Through Friday, Pezold said retired military or civilian customers may sign a letter and the restaurant will forward it to Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Anyone who signs a letter will get a free chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie.
“If you want to write your own letter, that’s fine,” Pezold said. “We will mail it for you and save the postage. We are going to do over 10,000 letters. We will.”
Similar efforts are under way at Columbus Regional Healthcare System and Headquarter Nissan. “Those are our partners,” he said.
During the last assessment, Jones noted that Fort Benning was low in responses but rallied to move near the top at the end. He also said authorities in the region have approved resolutions, including the chambers of commerce in Phenix City, Harris County and Columbus.
“I remain positive that we will have a good response,” Jones said.
The public comment period ends on Aug. 25. Written comments should be sent to U.S. Army Environmental Command, Attention: SPEA Public Comments,
2450 Connell Road, Building 2264, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. 78234-7664, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For information, call 210-466-1590 or toll free at 855-846-3940. To download a response letter from the chamber, go to