The November session of Leadership Middle Tennessee introduced our class to the importance of the United States Army base at Fort Campbell to the City of Clarksville and to Montgomery County. Our class was able to interact with soldiers on base on the first day, and we were allowed to gain an appreciation of military life. On the second day, as we toured the rest of Clarksville and Montgomery County, we were able to see the impact of the base and the military on the economy of the city, the county, and on the Middle Tennessee region. Finally, we were able to gain an understanding of the difficulties that soldiers have transitioning from being a soldier to being a civilian, but we also learned of real opportunities for soldiers to fill jobs that employers have trouble filling with qualified candidates.
DAY ONE – THE BASE AT FORT CAMPBELL
Leadership Middle Tennessee visited Fort Campbell on our first day in Montgomery County. The sheer size of Fort Campbell is staggering. Fort Campbell is 105,000 acres and houses 10,233 soldiers in its barracks. The total population including the troops, their families, and support staff is over 25,000. The base supports 241,880 people. There are 27,869 active military that work at Fort Campbell with 46,214 family members. Civilian employees number 4,036. Contract employees number 2,595. There are over 150,000 military retirees in Montgomery County. The total economic impact of the base is $4.55 billions dollars in pay alone for fiscal year 2015. This does not include additional multipliers that could be used to show the complete economic impact of the base. Fort Campbell is the number one employer in the state of Kentucky and it is the number two employer in Tennessee.
Fort Campbell is unique because of its deployment capabilities. Campbell Airfield is the second largest Army airfield in the continental United States. It has an 11,822 foot main runway. Fort Campbell has the ability to airlift both soldiers and equipment directly to the theater of combat. Also, Fort Campbell has both railroad and barge capabilities. The railroad allows for easy deployment of equipment and the Cumberland River facilitates barge operations.
Sequestration or cutting costs is a risk to Fort Campbell’s readiness. Lack of defense spending can effect maintenance of the facility and equipment. Financial cuts can cause risks to mission critical operations. An example is that for the years 2016 to 2020, there are no plans for construction at Fort Campbell. This is very different than in the past ten years. Over the past ten years, there has been approximately $100 million dollars per year in military construction on base. Further, staff reductions have been requested by the Army. The United States’ Army is the smallest it has been since World War II.
Staff reductions can effect the base’s ability to deploy effectively. Currently, soldiers from the base are deployed in Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Special Forces are all over the world. Fort Campbell pilots fly missions all over the world as well. Fort Campbell is the most deployed military base in the U.S. Army.
Four hundred soldiers per month are leaving the military either due to the retirement or due to their period of service ending. Due to this, the military has many programs to help the soldiers make that transition from soldier to civilian. These programs attempt to match the skills of soldiers with employers that are looking for a quality workforce. Soldiers are mature, adaptable, good problem solvers, accountable, resourceful, decisive, confident, responsive, disciplined, and skilled. Soldiers merely need to be given an opportunity to show what they are capable of in the private sector. One program giving soldiers opportunities is the Hiring Our Heroes program. It is a “white collar” three month internship program where soldiers are placed temporarily with area corporations. It has been a very successful program.
It was very interesting to hear the perspectives of some of the officers that we met. They see it as a real problem that in American society that “everyone gets a trophy.” Once officer stated, “The school of hard knocks is out of session.” He said that many of today’s youth have poor coping skills, and this is a problem for the military just as it is for employers in every day society. Many young people today have “mommy and daddy issues” and “don’t know how to do anything,” said one officer.
DAY 2 – CLARKSVILLE & MONTGOMERY COUNTY
On day two, we toured Clarksville and Montgomery County and met many business and community leaders. They all saw the military base at Fort Campbell as a huge asset. Further, they saw a real need to try to keep soldiers from leaving the area after their military service ended. They want to see soldiers decide to live and work locally in Montgomery County rather than returning to their home town or home state. Nationally, 1 in 675 people are veterans. In Montgomery County, 1 in 7 people are veterans. So, the military is interwoven into the fabric of the entire community.
In talking to business leaders they saw one small deficiency in soldiers leaving the military and that was their lack of “soft skills.” Soft skills include the ability to communicate in the way that civilians communicate. Some soldiers were so used to military jargon that it was hard to transition to civilian life. Also, many soldiers struggle with the time it takes to get things done in the civilian world. They are not used to the normal “red tape” of a corporation. They are used to getting things done quickly. If you give a soldier a mission, then they go get it done. It isn’t always that way in civilian life.
In order to help soldiers, the business community is promoting soldiers for civilian jobs in the fields of medicine with an EMS program, in the filed of aviation with a helicopter pilot program, and in the field of manufacturing with a mechatronics program. The “Boots to Business” program helps soldiers start their own small business. “Bunker Labs” act as an incubation cell that helps soldiers start small businesses as well.
We visited the Hankook Tire Plant. Their desire is for Hankook to be a family place where multiple generations in one family can work there. Hankook chose Clarksville/Montgomery County because it was “located at the crossroads of America.” It is within a half days’ drive to most of Hankook’s U.S. customers/markets in the U.S.
Our class heard from the local Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development staffs. They are taking an approach that combines both public and private resources. The Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Industrial Development Board, and at 501c3 called Aspire are all working together for the betterment of Montgomery County. Aspired five year return on investment is a $5 return for every $1 spent. Clarksville/Montgomery County has shown a willingness to invest in their future and to take calculated risks.
Fort Campbell is extremely important to the future of Clarksville and Montgomery County, but it is also important to the future of our Middle Tennessee region. The four hundred soldiers that come out of Fort Campbell every month can be a steady pipeline of qualified, skilled workers for the entire region if business and community leaders will simply give them the opportunity. Many of these soldiers are the best and brightest of small town communities from all across America. These soldiers volunteered for you, and now the Volunteer state can reward their service and sacrifice by giving them an opportunity to stay here in Tennessee in area that they have come to know and love. These soldiers and their families do not want to leave and uproot their families. So, let’s all encourage our family and friends who own businesses to contact Fort Campbell to see what they can do to help match these heroes with great job opportunities in Middle Tennessee. Our businesses and communities will be better for it. God bless America and God bless our soldiers and veterans!