- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

LEESVILLE, La. (AP) - U.S. Army officials visited Leesville to hear concerns about a potential downsizing that could remove more than half the personnel at the Vernon Parish base.

At Tuesday’s listening session in Leesville, and concurrent events in Alexandria and Lake Charles, The Town Talk reports (http://townta.lk/1w2nV56) the community support stakeholders hope will play a big part in the Army’s decision was on display.

“This community has fought hard,” said Michael Reese, chairman of Fort Polk Progress, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and advocating for the base. “We’re going to show them a fight tonight.”

“It made a difference last time, it seemed,” said Debbie Ross, one of the people who lined the streets of Leesville in a show of support Tuesday. “We’re hoping we can sway them again. It seems like this town always rallies. It shows out.”

The Army is evaluating ways to reduce its strength by as many as 70,000 troops. Fort Polk is one of 30 bases that is being considered for personnel reductions to achieve that.

If Fort Polk is one of the installations cut, the base could lose up to 6,500 of its military population of nearly 11,000.

The arguments Army officials heard Tuesday were familiar to anyone who has followed this process, or a similar process two years ago where Fort Polk escaped significant cutbacks.

The most passionate arguments were reminders that, whenever the Army has asked the people of Central Louisiana for something, the region has delivered.

The state and local parishes have invested heavily in areas such as transportation, education and quality of life to support the base’s mission.

Some speakers Tuesday pointed out that losing those troops would have a catastrophic impact on the regional economy and population. Others made military value arguments, such as access to transportation hubs makes Fort Polk ideal for rapid deployment of a brigade combat team and keeping a BCT stationed at the base represents a cost savings for the Army.

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Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com

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