NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Fort Polk in western Louisiana will lose fewer than 250 troops as the Army moves ahead with restructuring plans that will cut 80,000 nationally, members of the state's congressional delegation said Tuesday.
"We are ecstatic," said Robert Rose, mayor of Leesville. Rose said the economies of Leesville and Vernon Parish depend heavily on the base, where officials once feared more than half the 9,500 troops would be cut.
"It would have been devastating to our city and to our parish," Rose said in a telephone interview.
Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter and members of the state's House delegation hailed the announcement Tuesday as a victory for the base's supporters.
The Army is being reduced in size from a high of about 570,000 during the peak of the Iraq war to 490,000 - part of an effort to cut federal spending and reflect the country's military needs as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end.
"Today, the hard work of the Central Louisiana community has paid off - together we have kept Fort Polk strong," Landrieu, D-La., said in a statement from her office.
Vitter and Fleming, both Republicans, issued a joint news release saying the decision shows the importance of Fort Polk to the Army. "The troops at Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center are vital and contribute enormously to our national security," said Fleming, who represents the 4thCongressional District. Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander of Ruston also issued a statement praising the Army's decision.
The base is especially important to neighboring Leesville, population about 6,600, and surrounding Vernon Parish, with a population of about 52,000 that includes soldiers and their families.
However, Rose said, the decision had far-reaching effects in western Louisiana and east Texas. "Alexandria, Pineville and Lake Charles all benefit from Fort Polk," he said.
Anne Causey, executive director of the Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce, agreed. "Everyone, from Jasper, Texas, over to Pineville were all on board," she said.
Rose and Causey singled out Landrieu for praise in the effort to save jobs at the base but said there was a community-wide effort of people, businesses and elected officials who aimed to make sure Defense Department officials realized the depth of local support for Fort Polk, as well as benefits including the rural base's unencumbered access to land for expansion and unencumbered air space.
"This is a victory for everybody in this region," Rose said.