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January 21, 2015

Overwhelming crowds turn out to support Fort Campbell

Several thousand people turned out last evening for a “Listening Session” at Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne. It was turnout that city and state officials had hoped for and it filled the Family Resource Center on base and overflowed into two other venues: Cole Park Commons and the Wilson Theatre.

Seat saving was not allowed, and those who left the building were not allowed back in. Officials from both Tennessee and Kentucky turned out to voice opposition to proposed cutbacks at the base that would cut the number of soldiers stationed here by nearly half.

The impact, officials stated, would be catastrophic. Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield passed on the President’s State of the Union address, stating that “soldiers are more than mere statistics.” Rep. Marsha Blackburn remained in Washington for the State of The Union.

The biggest statement of the night, though, was the public response, which “exceeded expectations” and let officials at the national level know that the residents of the area served by Fort Campbell would not go down without a fight. The meeting ran well over the allocated 6-8:30 p.m. schedule, and across the board the message was “don’t cut troop levels at Fort Campbell.”

The proposed cutbacks are part of the budget controls passed in 2011 that require across the board cuts in defense spending and will impact 30 bases across the country. The numbers for Fort Campbell were released in the 2014 Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment with severe cuts targeted at Fort Campbell, which straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky state line. Kentucky has also held several meetings on the issue.

The cuts could reduce troop numbers 162,000 nationwide, with the local base taken a huge hit — 15,209 soldiers and 791 civilians by 2020. Currently Fort Campbell has a total of 32,281 troops. But it’s not just about troop numbers. Some 24,000 members of the military families would also be affected. That would cut 40,000 people or 14% from the Tennessee-Kentucky population. It would also cut nearly 2,000 each in direct-contact jobs and induced jobs (jobs that result from the higher base population numbers). The cuts would trim the area’s labor pool by 17%. The economic impact is nearly $1 billion dollars in yearly income. Add to that reductions in sales and sales tax and the cuts become devastating.

Schools in the CMCSS school district will also feel “adverse impact” from these cuts.

Six months ago City Mayor Kim McMillan, Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers and Clarksville Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melinda Shepard issued an impact statement:

* Population: The projected cuts from the loss of jobs in construction, real estate and education would be 58,590 people.

* Housing: With more than have of base personnel living the community, the cuts would result in 16,511 vacant homes and apartments.

* Schools: The projected cuts would cut CMCSS enrollment by 8,500 students and the elimination of 1,147 CMCSS jobs. The cuts also also trigger the closing of two high schools, two middle schools and six elementary schools.

* County budget: With the bonds issued for new school construction, the county will have to continue paying for schools it no longer needs through bonds for 15 years.

* APSU: One-fifth of APSU’s students are military-connected. In a three-year period, from 2011-12 to 2013-14, APSU received $29.1 million over the past three years in tuition and fee revenues military and military-connected students.

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