Monday, June 17, 2024

Military bases valuable to state

by BPT Staff
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Louisiana’s two major military installations – Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier Parish and
Fort Johnson in Vernon Parish – not only are vital defense facilities for the state and nation but
also are major revenue producers for the state.

At a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs,
Barksdale Commander Colonel Michael “Fetch” Maginness and Ft. Johnson Garrison
Commander Colonel Clifton “CJ” Lopez, said their facilities bring a total of more than $3 billion
in federal funding to the state in the form of salaries and funding for projects often constructed
by local contractors.

Col. Maginness said Barksdale is undergoing major developments to improve aging runways,
update on-base facilities, and to prepare for 400 new airmen to man a new division to operate the
Long Range Stand Off Missile that will be based at Barksdale.

The new technology is crucial, he said, because of “rapid advancements in technology,
especially on the part of the Chinese… Quite frankly, we can no longer think of homeland as a
sanctuary.” Strategic deterrence is a major factor in today’s warfare, so B52s are fitted for long-
range missions. “In 18 hours, I can hold any target hostage, anywhere in the world, from
Northwest Louisiana. I don’t need to deploy.”

Constant care of the B-52 bombers at Barksdale is necessary, the colonel told committee
members, because the newest one was built in 1961. As commander the 2 nd Bomb Wing, he
believes it is “the greatest airplane ever built.”

The population of the 27,000-acre Barksdale AFB is about 14,500 and “the military is a
family business,” so it has to have facilities for entire families.

Col. Lopez said soldiers have been training for war at Fort Johnson (formerly Fort Polk) and
the Joint Readiness Training Center since 1940, when they prepared for World War II. More
than a million combat troops trained for Viet Nam there, so “training is in our DNA.”

Fort Johnson’s total base population is 32,628, including 7,949 active duty Army and
Reserve, 222 Air Force, 12,447 military family members, 6,147 civilian employees, 5,770
transient and rotational personnel, and a 93-member Reserve component.

Families rely on Vernon Parish schools and Fort Johnson has “one of the largest child care
facilities in the United States,” Col. Lopez said. The fort’s $1.79 billion impact on the state put it
in the top 12 of Louisiana’s largest businesses.

The two military locations have “a huge financial impact on the state of Louisiana,” said
committee member Sen. Mike Reese, R-Leesville. He said Fort Johnson’s 250,000 acres is “50
percent of the land mass of Vernon Parish, so we’re challenged to provide the kind of support we
need to supply without the ad valorem tax generated in other communities.”

“Our military partners bravely serve all of us and we look forward to seeing improvements
and upgrades that will continue to keep our state safe. Today’s presentations from our military
leaders demonstrate what a tremendous impact their work has in our communities,” said
Committee Chair Sen. Adam Bass. “Barksdale’s economic footprint in my district alone totals
$980 million and the base commander says he’d like to see it as high as $1 billion. That’s
impressive.” 

Charlton Meginley, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, told the committee that
his office focuses on “the economics of veterans,” and although it has historically sought to serve
older veterans, he wants to share that focus on the education and employment needs of younger
veterans.

“Louisiana is the most veteran-friendly state in the United States,” with property tax and other
breaks given to veterans, he said.

The state has five veterans’ homes and five veterans’ cemeteries. Each parish has a veterans
service office staffed by veterans trained to assist with applicants’ needs.

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