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Fort Campbell Listening Session Draws Largest Crowd So Far, But No Decision

Whitney Jones

Soldiers, civilians and nearby community members all with connections to Fort Campbell are anxiously awaiting a decision from the federal government that could threaten their financial livelihood.

The Army is conducting a series of listening sessions to determine just how large cuts could be at a number of military bases, Fort Campbell being one of them. The post has already been hit once with the deactivation of a combat aviation brigade in 2014.

A friendly faced soldier scans each person entering with a metal detector, the people quickly filling the more than 600 plus chairs in the Family Resource Center. More than 1,600 people total came to the event spilling into the main hall and two overflow rooms. Fort Campbell officials even had to turn many away.

These concerned citizens came not to hear about a decision, not to get answers to their questions but to raise their voices in support of the troops and the resources the installation brings to their communities.

Melanie Brander has lived in Clarksville almost all her life. Her father served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but always came back home to Fort Campbell.

“I buried him at the veterans cemetery right up the road,” she said. “And that’s what I wanted them to consider. They don’t owe me anything. But they owe every one of the people out there at the cemetery the ability to keep their home safe.”

The crowd sat, listening for more than four hours as 40 scheduled speakers ranging from politicians to school administrators told Army officials why they need to keep, not cut the soldiers.

For many, they would be without work if the Army’s study of reducing nearly half the installation’s force is implemented. Almost a quarter of jobs in Christian County and 14 percent of those in Clarksville are tied to the post.

Michael McMillan is one of those people, and he’s seen drops in the force before, but nothing of this magnitude. He is the vice president of McIntosh Construction in Clarksville.

“We saw a shortage, a slowdown in the early 90s when we went to the Gulf War,” he said. “Work came to a halt here, I mean, it came to a halt. And then again around 2000 there was a big slowdown. We had to lay off about half our work force.”

Workers and local businesses wouldn’t be the only casualties. More than 24,000 family members, including over 15,000 children would be impacted if the Army’s proposed reductions were put in place.

Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs Chairman David Thompson says the Commonwealth’s military installations have taken more than thirty percent of military force cuts in the past two years, higher than any other state.

“We consider it a strategic misstep to look to Kentucky and the military installations here as ongoing targets for force structure cuts,” Thompson said. “Our fear is that national security and Kentucky’s economic security are exposed to unnecessary risk due to what we see as an unbalanced approach to this point.”

Marc Harris runs a real estate firm in Clarksville but served in the special forces for 10 years. As a past Clarksville city councilman he has worked with officials in DC on behalf of Fort Campbell. He says the Army should look elsewhere for the required cuts.

“I really believe you can make cuts without affecting Fort Campbell,” Harris said. “There’s no post or installation in the United States that has the aviation assets that this army post have. So I think if other resources were minimized in others posts, it would be a better decision made by the Department of Defense.”

Maggie Tiefenthal’s husband served at Fort Campbell and she’s lived in the area two years. She also thinks cuts should be taken elsewhere, although her ideas reach beyond the military.

“I think they need to cut the budget in other things, like welfare, food stamps,” she said. “I’m just telling the truth. I think many people receive many benefits they should not get.”

The proposed reductions are the result of the 2011 Budget Control Act through sequestration, with defense required to take half the cuts. The Department of Defense will hold more listening sessions at other posts across the nation, then decide where reductions will be made by late spring.

Whitney grew up listening to Car Talk to and from her family’s beach vacation each year, but it wasn’t until a friend introduced her to This American Life that radio really grabbed her attention. She is a recent graduate from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where she studied journalism. When she’s not at WKMS, you can find her working on her backyard compost pile and garden, getting lost on her bicycle or crocheting one massive blanket.
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